Root of Conflict Podcast

Why are some places affected by violence and disorder while others enjoy peace and stability? Root of Conflict analyzes violent conflict around the world, and the people, societies, and policy issues it affects. Harris Public Policy students meet with leading experts and key stakeholders to discuss what can be done to create more peaceful societies.

This series is produced by University of Chicago Public Policy Podcasts, (UC3P) in partnership with The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts. 

Root of Conflict


Autonomy and Kashmir

The Citizenship Amendment Act and Article 370 was passed late in 2019 in the Kashmir, which further restricted autonomy in the region and increased unrest in the state. In this episode, students speak to Harris alum Salwa Shameem, who is a film maker and strategy consultant, and Rohool, a local activist in Kashmir, about the conflict and its broader implications.

Root of Conflict Interviewers: You're listening to Root of Conflict, a podcast about violent conflict around the world and the people, societies and policy issues it affects. You'll hear from experts and practitioners can conduct research, implement programs and use data analysis to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world. Root of Conflict is produced by UC3P, in collaboration with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict, a research Institute housed within the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.


News Anchor 1: …the new law, which allows migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to seek Indian citizenship, though, long as they are not Muslim.


News Anchor 2: Protestors defied a ban on large gatherings.


Protestors: [inaudible] The Citizenship Amendment Act, completely unconstitutional, anti-people, arbitrary, and against the basic feature of the Indian constitution.


Aishwarya Raje: In December of 2019, the government of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act or the CAA, which would grant Indian citizenship to migrants of certain religions who fled for religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Muslims, most notably, were excluded from this amendment. This was the first time religion had been used as a criteria for Indian citizenship, and it led to widespread protests across India, particularly on behalf of those who feared they would become stateless in their own country. On this episode of Root of Conflict, we discussed the ramifications of the CAA and its subsequent protests, as well as how prime minister Narendra Modi's decision to revoke Kashmir’s statehood puts the future of India's democracy. In limbo. Yi Ning Wong is joined by guest interviewer, Pranjal Chandra who speak to Salwa Shamim, a policy analyst focused on international development about the CAA. Later in the episode, you'll hear from Rohool Banka, a Kashmir University student in New Delhi who joined the protests and shares his on the ground perspective.


Yi Ning Wong: Thank you for coming here today and joining us before we start our conversation about what's going on in Kashmir. Could you just give us a little bit of context about what's going on in India?


Salwa Shameem: Well, I guess we should start with the most recent events that have emerged in the last month or so, which is that at the end of February, in response to the Citizenship Amendment Act, there have been protests across India, by both Hindus and Muslims and other minority groups. Originally, the CAA is meant to, for undocumented migrants or individuals from neighboring countries around India, give them a pathway to citizenship. But this law explicitly states that Muslims are not a part of that law, meaning that they don't have a pathway to that citizenship. So, for the first time since Indian independence, you've got a law that is explicitly using a religious test to prevent a pathway to citizenship. And so, the reason this is problematic is because you've got the national register of citizens, which is a record of all the citizens in India, or at least trying to create a record of citizenship in India. And what it's asking individuals to do across all of India is to provide proof, by papers or documentation, that you are in fact a citizen.


And the reason that that is problematic is because you're talking about people across the socioeconomic strata, trying to scramble for papers to prove that they've lived here for generations and generations. And if you're thinking about like the poorest or the most vulnerable segments of Indian society, that means poor individuals who have to come up with these papers that they don't have, and then somehow prove that they've been here for however many generations. With the CAA and then the NRC, the National Register of Citizens, you've created this situation in which if you can't prove that you're not a U.S. citizen, or you don't have the papers to prove that, then you can go through the CAA and have a pathway to citizenship. But if you're Muslim, then you are kind of being affected in two ways. You neither have the papers nor do you have a pathway to actually get that citizenship.


Again, I want to keep reiterating that this is not a Muslim issue. Indians across India have been alarmed by this because of how blatant the language was. And so, you've had these protests happen in Delhi, and largely peaceful demonstrations and dissent, and then what you get is, Kapil Mishra, who has this rhetoric of “If the protesters don't clear out, then they're going to be cleared out,” that sort of language. And so, what you get then is mob violence of right-wing Hindu nationalists, who went out into the streets and took those protesters out. And not just those protesters, but that community. So, it was effectively a pogrom, right? When we talk about what actually was going on, we're talking about lynchings, beatings, burning down businesses and homes and rape and sexual violence.


And 53 people have died so far as a result of it. Many of them, most of them Muslim, a lot of them lynched and died as a result of that mob violence. And I think what makes it a pogrom and not a riot is because there's this language around like, “Oh, it's a riot. It's just communal violence between Hindus and Muslims,” again, this language of, “Oh, it's a religious issue.” And again, that's one that's simply not true because you actually had Hindus on the front lines, helping Muslims while they were going through this. Right? But then at the same time, that behavior, that mob violence, that was created, not in a vacuum, but around conditions of anti-Muslim rhetoric that have been going on for a while, such as the statements by Kapil Mishra. The reason this matters is because it's not specific to Delhi, it's not specific to this particular time.


It's part of a larger rhetoric that is unfolding or has been unfolding in India. And, unfortunately Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he has a history of this, meaning in 2002 during the Gujarat pogrom and the riots, as they say, you had up to a thousand Muslims die as a result of very similar violence. And the best view of him in that case is that he stood by and did nothing while it was happening, knowing that the police were sort of allowing it to go down. This is sort of like a resurgence of that violence, and my fear, and I think the fear of a lot of people is that we're going to see more of this, just across many, many parts of India.


Pranjal Chandra: Yeah, I think you spoke about how RSS and BJP are interconnected, and RSS’s ideology in terms of what BJP. Can you describe a little more about how you see the connection between RSS and BJP, and obviously before independence, from 1980 when BJP was formed, and then right now, how you have seen BJP and RSS?


Salwa Shameem: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because the RSS was around before the independence of India and they were quite active even before then. And so, while you had visions of Pakistan and visions of a secular India, you had this other sort of fringe group advocating for like a purely Hindu state. And they were actually banned multiple times. Even within India, they were considered this really, really fringe group. To credit the RSS, they were very intelligent with their strategy, which was, they went to people from all parts of India and said, “This is the vision of India that we want.” Here is how you create that that vision of a Hindu state, right. And Narendra Modi was actually a member of the RSS as a young boy. Like he really climbed the ranks of the RSS.


He was rewarded for that. And then he slowly, politically distanced himself to the effect that he could actually go and run for office, and then rise to power in that way. But it's kind of like mother and child, if you really think about it, it's like a parent organization and the child goes off and has grown up with those values, those principles, and then goes off and does their own thing. It would be foolish to think that just because he no longer officially identifies as a part of the RSS, that he's not connected or influenced, or even directly involved in how that ideology plays out. And again, this is not dissimilar from what we're seeing in America in some ways, which is, sometimes it works well politically to align with even the fringe element, because the fringe element is politically expedient and savvy. And so, I think whether or not all these BJP politicians believe in what the RSS is saying, that vision doesn't matter actually, because for them it's politically convenient either way.


Yi Ning Wong: Is what they're doing motivated by wanting to keep that power and taking advantage of having a Hindu majority, or is it purely ideological?


Salwa Shameem: I think it's something related to both, because aligning yourself with the BJP or the RSS, whatever it is, there's so much groundswell support for it that sometimes it doesn't pay to not be a part of that movement. Right? Especially if it's at risk to your own wellbeing. And you have, like I said, Hindus across India who don't agree with this, but they are also in danger because they're siding with a different vision of India. So, I think the most interesting part about this is like, “What will India be?” And if this is supposedly the world's largest democracy by virtue of the fact that there are just so many – the population is so large – I mean, what kind of democracy is this? Is it a liberal democracy? It is an illiberal democracy, or is it just a charade? Like, that's like the real question we've got to be asking. And I think the other thing that's interesting about the RSS is the support that you see on the ground. It's very much grassroots. And I think that is why it's been so successful, is because it's not necessarily someone promising lofty ideals on a political stage, it's that these people are in the trenches with the community saying, “We're going to train you, we'll provide you resources. Here’s your mission, here's your purpose now.” And if you're talking to people who are economically, politically, socially impoverished, that's a great vision to offer someone.


Pranjal Chandra: How do you see BJP dependence on RSS with respect to that? Particularly because India is such a huge country, and when you have that grassroots mobilization and organization, you can obviously leverage it towards different models. And thus, do you see BGB can ever branch out of RSS completely or do you see them completely dependent on them?


Salwa Shameem: You’re basically asking how much will do you truly have when something is such a groundswell movement, and so politically sort of entrenched. And this goes back to your earlier question of “Is it actually an ideological belief or is it a politically convenient, expedient thing to do because of this groundswell?” I'm not sure what the answer to that is, but I think if about the BJP, and for that matter, even the Congress party, right? It's really easy to bypass true policy change and the real work that needs to be done in India, that requires a lot of hard work and accountability, right? Like true accountability to the Indian people. Supporting an organization like this allows you to kind of bypass that accountability and that responsibility, whether you're in the BJP or Congress. Right? And we're going to talk about the Congress Party. Like, yes, they've distanced themselves from the RSS and of course the BJP, their opposition. But if you look at even the Congress Party's policies in the last X number of years, they haven't always been particularly friendly towards minorities either. Right? So, it goes back to this question of like, what is your vision for India and how accountable do you actually want to be to the Indian public for true change in society.


Yi Ning Wong: Looking at the current regime, through the lens of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, we know that there's been an internet shutdown, Article 370 has been passed. Can you walk us through a little bit about what's happening?


Salwa Shameem: Yeah, I think it'll be good to rewind to August,2019, where there was a new law passed unilaterally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, his majoritarian party, the BJP, to abrogate or revoke the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, Article 370. And what that article basically means is, or at least what it symbolized, was this notion of Kashmir being a part of India in the sense that the Indian government had control over its foreign affairs, its communication affairs, and its defense. But Article 370 did grant a bit of semi-autonomous status for Kashmiris to manage their own internal affairs. And the revocation of that article is basically saying, “You no longer have any control. You are now a part of the Indian Union, wholesale.” And if we just rewind a little bit further, the reason that matters is because for 70 years, and this actually predates even partition, the desire for Kashmiri independence doesn't happen in 1947.


It actually precedes that. And so, when the partition happens, Kashmiris are offered or promised a referendum to decide the future. Do they want to join Muslim majority Pakistan? Do they want to be a part of India, or do they want to be an independent state? It's all kind of left in the air so that they can figure it out. That referendum never ends up happening. And then what transpires from that not happening is 70 years of militarization of Kashmir. And this is the most militarized region in the world, or one of the most. It's more militarized than the North and South Korea border. It's more militarized than South Sudan and Sudan, than Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. Mexico border. So, if you think of what’s happening at all of those borders, this is more militarized than those.


And so, you have around 600,000 to 700,000 Indian soldiers effectively occupying Kashmir. And we're not talking about a benign military presence. We're talking about a military presence that engages in a series of human rights abuses across a spectrum, ranging from curfews and strict control of movement, to night raids and missing children, kidnapping of young boys and children at night, all the way to obviously violence, sexual violence, rape. And then you've got squashing protests and using pellet guns to blind protestors, all of which is a means to control a population and their political and social and economic will. And so, what happened in August 2019 is, on one hand Article 370 was already quite symbolic. If you talk to most Kashmiris, they'll say it meant nothing anyways, in the sense that they effectively were already treated like they had no political, social or economic will, but the unilateral revocation of that article is a very bold move symbolically because we know Kashmir is a hotbed, it's very sensitive.


You've got two nuclear armed countries, both Pakistan and India, both in conflict over this piece of land. So, it's a bold move to unilaterally make that choice. But even more concerning than Article 370 being revoked is Section 35(a) which is a part of Article 370, which basically protected Kashmiris and their property ownership. Right? So with changing 35(a) what you get is a real economic hit of what happens to our property and our land when Indians from mainland India flood Kashmir and buy our property, or we can't sell, or we can't do business. So, that is like the real time implication of this. While the rest of the world has already found out that the article has been revoked, Kashmiris inside Kashmir don't find out that Article 370 has been revoked and there's a total communication blackout. Internet is shut down, mobile landlines, all disconnected, and that's effectively keeping a population in total silence. So that again, what is the function of that? Why would a democracy do that to 7 million people overnight? And it's again to prevent mobilization, organization, protests, any sort of free will to exercise a dissent against this policy.


Yi Ning Wong:  What does revoking the article signal to BJP supporters?


Salwa Shameem: Yeah, I mean that the revocation of that article was a promise that the BJP party made as part of their election. They simply delivered on that promise. And I think what that tells BJP supporters and the BJP is “We'll get what we want,” and what it tells everyone else is, “If you challenge us, look at what we did here.” And it goes back to the point I just made. If you can do it in Kashmir, which has been this contested issue for 70+ years, then it's no big deal to pass the CAA or policies related to the NRC or building detention centers in Assam to house those undocumented Indians who've been living there for generations. That’s what it signals, is success and a groundswell of support for this.


Pranjal Chandra: So, that's what I'm hearing is that Article 370 sends a signal to all the supporters in terms of what BJP is capable of in its delivering on his promises.  When Article 370 was revoked, the other narrative was that, “Okay, finally, we have a solution for Kashmir,” because a lot of Indians felt like Kashmir was a part of India, and now, finally, Kashmir is a part of India officially. Is it a solution? Is it not a solution?


Salwa Shameem: The reality is, there's no solution if Kashmiris are not part of that. And that's simply what we see is that no Kashmiris were consulted when that unilateral decision to revoke Article 370 happened. And all Kashmiris have been demanding for the last 70-something years is to be a part of that process. And so, if you want a meaningful solution, well, certainly disengaging, well, not only disengaging, but brutally stamping out any political opinion coming from Kashmiris is not going to lead to any viable solution. It's not sustainable and it's not viable. And it certainly has no credibility.


Yi Ning Wong: So we’ve kind of seen similar patterns across the world in Xingjiang, China, and Rwanda, of like heavy military occupation. Do you think that these places are comparable with what's happening in Kashmir? And if so, what role does foreign policy have to play?


Salwa Shameem: I was going to mention this earlier, but I think if you're really like - it's kind of like the airplane level of what's going on, the 10,000-foot view. If you think about what's playing out in Kashmir and then what's played out in Delhi and will most likely play out in other parts of India, the reason this is so problematic, not just for Indian Muslims or for minorities or the Dalits or  whoever, is that, unfortunately, if you look at the region, we've got terrible success cases. And I say terrible success cases because we look at the Uighurs and China, and we look at the Rohingya in Myanmar. I mean, India saw this play out in two countries and it's worked phenomenally, and you're only further confident that you could push this forward. And so, I guess in terms of a foreign policy point of view, 1) if India is the “world's largest democracy,” what is our definition of a democracy in which this is possible? And then 2) knowing the scale, of just the impact in India, knowing what's happened with the Rohingya and what's happening with the Uighurs, it just makes it that much more real and it sounds eerily familiar to a lot of other right-wing extremists, moments of history in which people are round up. And then God knows what after that. And so that is the impact. If you're someone who is here in America or anywhere else, like why is this relevant to you? Apart from the fact that this is just another example of violence and right-wing extremism, it's that it’s going to be done on a scale that you haven't seen before. And I guess in terms of like being more solution-oriented, like what can U.S. foreign policy do, or what can we as policymakers do, is 1) being more aware of this. Right? Because I think most people have a very particular view of India, which is a very sanitized view, and maybe that's changing and in the last few months or so.


India is kind of portrayed as – you think of like Bollywood and food and culture – and those are all still aspects of Indian identity, but the reality for so many people in that country is otherwise.  And so, from a foreign policy standpoint, or even from a policymaking standpoint, having awareness of 1) what's going on 2) understanding Western complicity. What is Western or American complicity in this all? Because you just had President Trump visit, right? And in the backdrop of him talking about how India is a great place and a great country, you've got the streets literally burning. And interestingly enough, last September during the UN General Assembly, around that time, the Gates Foundation awarded Modi a Goalkeeper award, and that initially was being rewarded as there was a blackout in Kashmir, as there was violence in Kashmir.


You've got like one of the world's biggest philanthropic organizations, shaking hands and patting someone who has blood on his hands for building toilets. And even that initiative, just as a slight digression, even that initiative that he was rewarded for, it’s grossly overestimated, the positive impact of that particular initiative, in which Dalits were actually forced to clean open sewage areas. Again, reinforcing that you're lower than us. And that is actually partially the reason why that initiative was even remotely successful, is because it was on the backs of Dalits. I mean this is what's happening.  And then this man is being rewarded on an international stage for his activities. And that is what I mean by Western complicity. There is even a philanthropic complex. Why are we shaking hands with this individual? Well, part of that is because there's a huge market in India still, and everyone wants a piece of India economically, even in the West, like Silicon Valley has huge interests in India. And so this is what I mean: if we're going to think about being solution-oriented, what is in our control? And from a policymaking standpoint, that is this sort of influence, this economic influence. Like, can we put some pressure on Indian leadership for these actions?


Aishwarya Raje: Now you’ll hear Yi Ning’s conversation with Rohool Banka about his experiences as a student protester.


Rohool Banka: There's a difference – when they entered the library – there’s a difference, because the majority of the policemen in Delhi are in the midst of Muslims, and they have hatred towards Muslim community. So, this hatred, this organization has developed the officer's mind in such a way that they have also actually started beating people with their preferences. Like who is a Muslim, they will beat him wherever you find. Like if they find somebody who is having a long day, they're creating a sort of identity as a Muslim, they will judge him. Preferential treatment towards the certain community is actually gone to the roots, creating a sort of biasness towards these communities. So, we had seen these things already in the English mid-valley where we have sort of military forces everywhere, you are being checked everywhere. It's actually happening there as well, where Muslims, particularly Kashmiris, are also feeling not safe and not able to decide “Should I go back to Delhi for studying or not?” It's creating a sort of question among a lot of youth, a lot of population of Muslims, who are actually reluctant to go back to the institutions where they were studying.


Yi Ning Wong: Right. So local police officers act as a proxy to enforce Modi's ethnonationalistic regime and creating a sense of fear upon Muslim minorities?


Rohool Banka: Definitely, definitely. It's actually going in that way. I mean, it's a creating a sort of, they're creating a sort of otherization towards these communities. I told you last time, if you see most of the Muslims who go to different parts of the country, it's very difficult for them to find even accommodation. Like if I go to Delhi and if I want to stay somewhere in a room, or if I want to book a hotel, I will be checked in a way as if I’m somebody […]. So, this sort of hate mongering and this sort of communal – it is sort of a series of structural violence towards the community.  If you see the Bollywood of India, what you will see most of the villains in the movie will be Muslim.


If there is a terrorist, he’s Muslim. So, I would say like this sort of image has been manufactured in this industry. I mean, it's actually creating a sort of Islamophobia among the general public. So, even if you go to some local person in Delhi and ask him for the accommodation, and if he finds your name, which is a Muslim name, he will be reluctant to give you that accommodation. If somebody wants to go to Delhi and wants to study in a good university, or he has to go there and find a good accommodation where he wants to stay, he will not have easy access for that. So, for him, his good choice is to stay at home. So, because education demands security, you need to think creatively for that, and you need to have a security, which is not there for Muslims. I guess I have faced this problem. I realized it at different levels. Right now, I should have been there in the university, continuing my PhD. But unfortunately, because of this violence, because of this sort of events, what is happening is that people like me are staying at home.


Aishwarya Raje: Thank you for listening to this episode of Root of Conflict. Special thanks to our interviewers, Yi Ning Wong and Pranjal Chandra and to our guests, Salwa Shameem and Rohool Banka. As always, thank you to UC3P and the Pearson Institute for their continued support of this series. For more information on the Pearson Institute's research and events, visit or follow them on Twitter.


Root of Conflict


Preventing Conflict in Fragile States

The Global Fragility Act (GFA) was passed by Congress as part of the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act and was signed into law on December 20, 2019. The bill represented a historic victory for the peacebuilding field, which has long advocated for the GFA as a way forward to prevent violent conflict. The Alliance for Peacebuilding, a non-partisan network of over 110 organizations working to build sustainable peace, has been at the forefront of advocating for the GFA. In this episode of Root of Conflict, students speak with Liz Hume, Vice President of Alliance for Peacebuilding. Liz is a conflict expert with over 20 years of experience in leadership positions in multilateral organizations and NGOs. Liz discusses Alliance for Peacebuilding’s role in getting the GFA passed, as well as the importance of research and advocacy in crafting policies that promote peaceful political outcomes.

Root of Conflict Interviewers: You're listening to Root of Conflict, a podcast about violent conflict around the world and the people, societies and policy issues it affects. You'll hear from experts and practitioners who conduct research, implement programs and use data analysis to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world. Root of Conflict is produced by UC3P, in collaboration with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict, a research Institute housed within the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.


Aishwarya Raje: The Global Fragility Act, or the GFA was passed by Congress as part of the 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act and signed into law on December 20th, 2019. This bill represents a historic victory for the peacebuilding field, which has long advocated for the GFA as a way forward to prevent and reduce violent conflict. The Alliance for Peacebuilding, a non-partisan network of over 110 organizations working to end conflict and build sustainable peace, has been at the forefront of advocating for the GFA. In this episode of Root of Conflict, we spoke with Liz Hume, Vice President of Alliance for Peacebuilding. Liz is a conflict expert and has more than 20 years of experience in senior leadership positions in the federal government, multilateral institutions, and NGOs. In this interview, we discussed methods for ensuring bi-partisan support for the GFA, as well as the importance of research and advocacy in crafting policies that promote peaceful political outcomes.


Thank you, Liz for joining us. So, to start off, can you just tell us about the work and the mission of Alliance for Peacebuilding, and as Vice President of the organization, what are some of your main roles and responsibilities?


Liz Hume: So, thank you so much for having me. So, who is the Alliance for Peacebuilding? We're a membership-based organization. We have over 120 members working in the peacebuilding field, conflict prevention, in many different areas, Universities, academic institutions, large organizations like Mercy Corps and world vision and Catholic Relief Services and organizations that are doing other work besides just conflict prevention and peacebuilding. And then also smaller organizations, like New Gen Peace Builders, that are working in on education and peacebuilding. The field is in some regards, relatively small because of the funding that goes into the field. So, you're going to have larger organizations embedded in big development, and then you might have smaller organizations working in the field as well.

So, we represent our members both in three buckets that we talk about, which is policy and advocacy, learning and evaluation, and partnerships. So, the policy and advocacy really focuses on how do we work with Congress, the executive branch, multilaterals like the UN, making sure that our organizations, their work, their best practices get into policy, find their way into policy in terms of how do we deal with laws like the Global Fragility Act. So, there's all sorts of ways. we just had a big meeting at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, where we were consulting on the new United Nations Sustaining Peace Platform. Those are just some examples from the policy and advocacy. We also focus in on technical areas and this is where it bleeds into our learning and evaluation program. So, looking at violent extremism, there’s a lot of theories of change out there that say, “If you do this, then violent extremism will be reduced.” But we really go deep in looking at it. What do we know? What don’t we know? What is working? What isn’t working? And what else do we need to do? And that, we work very closely with our L&E team. So, really focusing on that evidence piece, but then also how do we build capacity of our members to be able to do more in the evidence space, in the evaluation space. And then around partnerships and promoting this work, how do we bring people into the sector? We have our conference this year coming up on December 7th, and that really will focus on bringing people into the field. And so, that's a lot of our partnership work as well.


Mwangi Thuita: Honing in on the policy and advocacy aspect of your work. Can you tell us a bit about the Global Fragility Act and what the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s role has been in that process?


Liz Hume: So we have to go back to 2016, a long time ago actually now. We were concerned that the peacebuilding field really came about in the nineties, this theory around peacebuilding, and it wasn't just about support to peace processes. You had to get into other sectors, and the peacebuilding field has grown, conflict prevention has grown. However, in the last two decades, we understand the causes of violence and violent conflict, but we don't have an overarching strategy of how to effectively deal with it in country X, country Y. And we've looked at it at a very projectized basis. And again, the funding that has gone into the peacebuilding field has been quite small.


When you look forward and you start seeing the numbers 2016, 2017 today, where roughly 2 billion people live in countries where development is affected by fragility, conflict and violence, and these numbers are increasing, the number of highly violent conflicts has increased for the first time in years. And it's not traditionally what we looked at. We looked at interstate conflicts that could be resolved by a peace agreement, getting all the actors, bringing them to us, a city in Dayton, Ohio and making them stay there until they came up with an agreement. We're not seeing that. Deaths from organized violence have risen over 230%. I mean, you could go on and on and on with these statistics. So, what we're doing isn't working. And so, sitting down and talking with one of our members from Mercy Corps, and taking a look at this, what does it need? What has to change? And so, we worked very closely with our member Mercy Corps to make this idea become realized around the Global Fragility Act.


We needed an overarching strategy for the U.S. government. We needed to do things differently, and that would mean additional funding. It would mean – there’s many things coming into play, and at an evidence-based, both at the program level, but also at the 30,000 foot, is this country becoming more sustainable from a peace perspective? Are we reducing violence? What is it going to take to do things differently in name, your country? What are we doing wrong? And so that's where the idea came about. And then we had to build a coalition around it. And you know, it's not always easy to do that. A lot of people weren't keen on the idea at first, anything that's new is a little scary. People also are nervous about the U.S. government given its national security strategy. So there's a couple aspects of it, the idea itself, selling the idea, building the coalition and then more importantly, today, more than ever, if anything is going to work, it has to be bipartisan. So, making sure we have Republican and Democrats.


Mwangi Thuita: of Republicans or Democrats, our current political system, at least as it's portrayed through the media is highly fraught between both parties. What are the keys to success and ensuring bipartisan support for the Global Fragility Act and what kind of arguments have you found to be most persuasive with lawmakers?


Liz Hume: It's a great question. In this space, and when you talk to Republicans and Democrats separately or when they're working together, I don't want to say it's obvious, but it's obvious what's happening. What we're doing isn't working. We have the evidence to show that. This is what we need, and these are the things that we could do to make an overarching strategy. And this is what it's going to take. And when we looked at the evidence, one of the things that folks on the Hill have asked us repeatedly, show us where programs have had impact. And in the last few years, we've gotten a lot better at that. Some organizations within our sector have gotten a lot better and we were able to show them and prove that we have been able to reduce violence.


We have been able to say that this program reduced people's perceptions and desires to join an extremist group. It’s horrible to say, but you had this incredible uptick in violence in the world coupled with the fact that the nature of conflict has changed. Again, not this interstate, more focusing on violent extremism, regional conflicts, community level conflicts. It’s not this group against this group, that we needed to do something different. That wasn't a hard sell, both Republicans and Democrats, they get it, they understand it. They have been true partners in this approach. And really, we're the champions on it.


Aishwarya Raje: Can you speak a bit to how the Global Fragility Acts focus on preventative measures, rather than perhaps interventionists measures, has really made a difference in getting strong bi-partisan support and getting the legislation passed? And how is that approach different than maybe other foreign assistance packages or legislations that you've seen in the past couple of years?


Liz Hume: Well, there haven't been a lot of legislative packages in the last couple of year, focusing on these issues. You know, we've seen them a lot in the health sector PEPFAR, the malaria fund, the PMI program. And I have to say in early discussions, thinking about this as a PEPFAR for violence, that when we would say that you would see people get very nervous. Looking back at about 2015, 2016, one of the things that people talk about all the time is “How can you prove that you prevented violence?” That's a huge question that we had to overcome. And that’s where I think a lot of the evidence that has started to come out in the last couple of years has been very critical for this.


But we started looking at specific countries in terms of what we were doing. And I always use Bangladesh as a perfect example. And this is not to say Bangladesh should be a GFA country, because you could pick any country and it will look like this in terms of U.S. government funding. So, if you look at the U.S. government strategy for Bangladesh it talks about how important it is. It talks about wants to address violent extremism. It continues on about governance issues, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What we know in Bangladesh is that the funding levels for development sectors, agriculture are incredibly high, and no one's saying, “Don't do that work.” But at the same time, the U.S. government reports, their conflict assessments, talk about what we need in Bangladesh to address violent extremism, conflict prevention really focuses on a governance approach.


But then when you look at the funding levels, the governance sector, the conflict prevention funding is a blip on the radar screen. It's so tiny. And so, what you're saying is “This is what we want to do.” And our own experts are saying, “This is what it's going to take.” And we know that instability and violence indicators are rising in Bangladesh, but let's just continue doing what we're doing, you know? And so, when you talk about that example, and I've done that at institutions with U.S. government folks sitting there, I had one U.S. government person lean over to me and say, “Good job, nicely done.” It shows – I don’t want to say the ridiculousness of it, these are great people trying to do great things. I worked at USAID, but we need some significant policy shifts. And that, I think when you talk about it and you present the evidence in terms of what we're doing, what isn't working, that violent conflict is going up, that we are able to start proving that these programs are working, it's kind of a game changer. And we're at that tipping point, I think right now.


Mwangi Thuita: You’ve talked a lot about evidence and we're at the Harris School of Public Policy, which places a strong premium on evidence-based approaches to policy, especially through quantitative analysis. While this is a vital piece of creating policy can you speak to the importance of combining the important elements of research and analysis with advocacy, outreach and communications? So how do advocacy-based approaches factor into your work?


Liz Hume: So again, great question. And I've had meetings all morning where we've been talking about this. In our sector, we've gotten away for a long time with not showing evidence, not even showing even unintended consequences, you know, seeing if this program worked, but did it have any impact overall? And again, that's changing, and there are some organizations that are doing a great job looking at this and making sure that this evidence comes into play. But we have to do better and we have to do a lot better. So, we have to publicize when we learn something. It's hard to do a lot of times, because again, a lot of programs aren't doing it, they're doing a lot of focus on outputs. That’s what the donor wants. We spent the money the way we said we were going to spend it, but they don't say this is the impact that we had. These are the unintended consequences that we had.


So, I think that's a big problem. There's a competition. There's not a lot of funding in this field. So, any really good learnings are kept because it's a competitive advantage. And then also, you are working in conflict-affected and fragile states. I was running a conflict governance program in Ethiopia for four years and the government – we weren't supposed to be running that program. So, the government, anything that went out, the government would look at. So, we did not release a lot of our reports. They went to the donor, but they didn't go farther than that.


But there are ways that we can sanitize that information and be able to get it out, even if you're working in a very restricted environment. So, there's some things on us that we need to do as a field, in terms of the evidence piece. So those are the problems with our evidence base. How do we then get the evidence into advocacy? And why is it important? Because 1) people on the Hill have told us, Congress, if you can't prove it, why are we funding this? How do we know what's working and what isn't working? People just keep proposing some of the same programs over and over again. We have no evidence to say they worked or not. So, one of the things AFP has done is, let's say, we've looked at countering violent extremism, that sub-sector, and go down in that. People have areas of change that they treat as gospel. And some of them have even been put out by the U.S. government in the peacebuilding sector.


So, we've looked at them. Do we even have evidence on this theory of change? Does it work? Does it not work? And what more do we need to know? So, we are systematically going through a lot of sub-sector reviews, working with our different partners to say, “Please stop just throwing this theory of change out there.” Even if it's on some government list somewhere. Make sure that you do the literature review, make sure that you know what's out there, what isn't out there. And then, once you do good work, we need to publicize it and we need to understand, “How do we put that back into a package that can be put into a policy document?” One that's no more than two pages because nobody reads in Washington more than two pages. And make sure your recommendations are clear and concise.


And even if you said, “Okay, this didn't work.” But what is the next theory? Okay. If this didn't work, why don't we then look at this? One of the examples I was talking about earlier today was, we have some anecdotal evidence on trauma and mental health in this field, that if you attach some psychosocial programming to other programs that are running, that that actually might that might be more helpful. So, people think they're coming in for this, but they're actually getting a little bit more here. So, we have some anecdotal information from people who have received that programming that has been helpful. Okay. And we've heard about it in other places. So, let's test that theory. But don't just assume that it works, but test it and say,
“Hey, we have this theory,” but what happens a lot of times is that people then just go off and do it and start treating it as gospel.


Aishwarya Raje: So going back to the GFA, you had talked about how many different sectors have to intersect in terms of actually putting the legislation together. But I'm curious as to how you see the potential of the GFA in touching other parts of society around the world beyond just maybe countering violent extremism, which of course is the main kind of crux of this legislation. But parts, society and development like health system, strengthening migration, gender equality, it seems like the GFA can really have a huge impact on all of these different pieces. So how hopeful are you that this legislation can actually do that?


Liz Hume: So two points well, a couple of points. I could talk all day about this. Just to go back really quickly on what you're talking about in terms of prevention and I don't think I answered that question completely:


Why the GFA is so important is because it really is for the first time talking about prevention and peacebuilding, and I think that is the critical piece of it. Now it says of five countries or regions, two at least have to be prevention countries. And that was something that in the end, when we knew it was going to come on the appropriations bill, that we really wanted to hold the line on, because we wanted to see this work in prevention countries and more than one, because we wanted to have a bit of a cross sector. So that's really, I think one of the key pieces of the GFA. On the second side, and what's so key about that is, it is really hard to get donors and the international community to focus on a prevention country. Because when things are blowing up all over the world, where does your attention go? Coupled with the fact of “How do you get people to pay attention?” when there's so much violent conflict, how do you decide where those resources go?


And so that, by far, I think is one of the most important aspects of it. On the issue of bringing in other sectors, this will not work if you don't. So again, I go back to Bangladesh as an example. You have the bulk of the funding that's going in there, education, health, agriculture. If those programs are not part of this design and are not focusing on their work from a conflict-sensitive approach, and that is beyond “do no harm” – the first thing, we want to make sure no program is doing harm – it’s got to be more than that. And it's got to say, “Okay, first, do no harm. Secondly, how is this sector, program, activity helping to reduce violence and build sustainable peace?”


And I will say this, and the education sector has done a lot of work in this area, but it is hard to crack a lot of these other development sectors. And health has been one of the hardest ones. And so, I think what happened, what you just saw happen in DRC, not too long ago, with the Ebola clinics, there was a lot of mistrust around them. The health clinics, violence was sparked. Some were burned down. It is a good time to talk to the health sector, and we've started to say, “1) How do we do no harm?” Clearly harm was done there, but this was an opportunity to help reduce violence and build sustainable peace. And you have to be better at it. And you have to be working in that space. You can't just say we're saving lives, and we don't have time, because that argument doesn't work anymore, coupled with the fact that you're missing a huge opportunity to help in terms of building sustainable peace.

So, that's just an example, but at the same time, the field has to compromise. We have to use the language that they're using. If they don't want to talk about conflict because they want to be more neutral, okay, let's talk about risk then. We have to also simplify this conflict sensitivity so that you don't need a PhD to understand it. We have to help and give them the resources and the technical expertise to build in a practical way, but they also have to be open to it and understand their role in this conflict dynamic.


Mwangi Thuita: So, as you look forward towards the rest of the year, and also the coming couple of years, what are some conflicts that you're keeping an eye on? Are there any countries or regions that you think are being overlooked as potential hotspots for conflict?


Liz Hume: This is just such a hard question because there are so many out there. If you look on one of my favorite sites, the Fund for Peace Conflict, the Fragile State Index, you'll see a lot of countries sitting in the warning site. Ethiopia again is another example. It’s always hovered in the last even probably two decades around number 19, or 20. But you also have to go in and see the conflict dynamics, those indicators are flashing, but what's the flip side? What's holding it back? What's the resiliency side of it there? And so, that, I think, is a bit more complicated than just going in and looking at the grievances and the conflict dynamics that are very targeted into what's wrong. So, in that regard, you have to look at it as more of a holistic approach. And I think we forget to do that a lot of times.


And also, one more aspect of it is that what sparks it, something's got to really spark it. I don’t think anybody predicted what happened with the Arab Spring. You know, if you go down into Tunisia, what was the cause? It was somebody who got fed up and tired. He was told to move his stall, his livelihood. And that was a major spark. I always say it's not an exact science and, and it just isn't, because you're dealing with also human beings that can be very irrational, and they don't do what you think they're going to do. That being said, we have some good examples of, if you look at Burkina Faso right now, a year or two years ago, we had great indicators that there were serious problems in Burkina Faso. And we didn't focus on conflict prevention there. We are now, but the problem is the government has lost swaths of areas where they have no control.


It isn't just violent extremism. You have a security problem with many different issues in terms of splinter groups, some of it criminal. So, what do you do now with Burkina Faso? So, I have people coming up to me all the time. Somebody came up to me after I was talking about Burkina Faso at a State Department conference came up and said, “You just described what's happening on Cameroon.” And right now, Ethiopia is a perfect example. Again, everybody is so excited about this political reform. We just put out a report that says, “You're having great political reforms, and these are the challenges.” And this is again, the Fund for Peace in 2020, we'll most likely say it's one of the worsened states in terms of conflict dynamics. But you had this great political reform. In order to get into the Fund for Peace side or any other conflict watchlist and take those top countries and go in, but then also looking at what is that resiliency factor.


And a good way to look at it is also elections. We know elections are a big spark for violence. So, and again, Ethiopia, right now, it keeps postponing its elections, but right now they're set for August. So those are some of the things that, looking at, and I will tell you, one thing that I am incredibly nervous about is Afghanistan right now. I think it's pretty clear what the U.S. government wants to do there, mainly get out. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in Afghanistan now, for the last almost 20 years, staying there or going back there and recognizing that this all will be coming to an end soon with an agreement that in the past, or in the recent past, has not been inclusive with safeguards and monitoring set up in terms of any agreement that is decided with the Taliban.


Aishwarya Raje: Well, thank you Liz so much for your time and for your tireless work in creating a more peaceful world.


Liz Hume: Thank you so much. This has been a pleasure talking with you, and also thank the Harris School for its role in producing evidence. I am a big fan of it, and I talk about it and make sure it gets in every strategy, document, law that’s being proposed right now, because we have to do more of it.


Mwangi Thuita: Thank you for listening to this episode of Root of Conflict, featuring Liz Hume, Vice President of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. Special thanks to UC3P and the Pearson Institute for their continued support of this series. Your interviewers today were Aishwarya Raje and Mwangi Thuita. Aishwarya Raje also produced this episode. Mwangi Thuita edited and engineered. For more information about The Pearson Institute, research and events, visit and follow them on Twitter.



Root of Conflict


Coping With the Global Refugee Crisis

There are currently over 70 million people displaced by war, conflict, and persecution worldwide (more than the population of Thailand). The vast majority of them are in low- and middle-income countries without adequate resources to support and resettle them. On this episode, Pearson Fellows Sonnet Frisbie and Mwangi Thuita spoke to Dr. Cindy Huang, vice president of strategic outreach at Refugees International and a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development, about policy initiatives that can improve protection and outcomes for displaced people. They engage in a wide-ranging conversation about the politics of refugee resettlement, weaving together narrative and evidence for policymakers, how refugee policy can be integrated into our support for host countries’ development agendas, and “Me Too” in the development community.

Root of Conflict Interviewers: You're listening to Root of Conflict, a podcast about violent conflict around the world and the people, societies and policy issues it affects. You'll hear from experts and practitioners can conduct research, implement programs and use data analysis to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world. Root of Conflict is produced by UC3P, in collaboration with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict, a research institute housed within the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.


Sonnet Frisbie: I'm Sonnet Frisbie.


Mwangi Thuita: I’m Mwangi Thuita.


Sonnet Frisbie: And you're listening to Root of Conflict. So, our guest today was Cindy Huang, the Vice President of Strategic Outreach at Refugees International. She's also a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development. She develops and leads initiatives to build support for improved protection for refugees and displaced people in the United States, but also around the world. So, she really has a vast depository of experience on these issues. She also has been a senior executive in government and of course, nonprofit, and has led major policy initiatives on forced displacement, food security and conflict prevention. While she was in government, she served as the Deputy Vice-President for Sector Operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, but also a Director of Policy of the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, and a Senior Advisor at the State Department.


So, she really has a lot of experience. She had a lot of what I thought were fresh different insights and real evidence-based policy proposals related to refugees. So, Mwangi, I'm really excited about the guests that we have on today. Listening to the news in the last few years, you probably have heard about the refugee crisis, 70.8 million people, more than the population of Thailand, displaced by war conflict and persecution, tens of millions more displaced by climate events and natural disasters. And of course, it's a human issue, but it's also a political issue, with governments either capitalizing on it as a wedge issue with voters or struggling with how they should respond on a humanitarian basis. And there's a lot of misperceptions about refugees.


Mwangi Thuita: And one of those misperceptions about refugees is that they're going to be in a host country for a short while, and then go back home. But increasingly, we're seeing that protracted periods of displacement are becoming more common. And another thing is that living in a developed country as we do, we may be tempted to think that hosting refugees is a rich world issue, but the burden has mostly been shouldered by low- and middle-income countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Jordan and Lebanon.


Sonnet Frisbie: That's absolutely right Mwangi. and not only do we often think that the rich world is shouldering the majority of the burden in terms of numbers, but also, we think of the wealthy world, in particular, the United States as being a real leader in this area. and it's true that the U.S. used to accept, I think it was more than all other countries combined, which is no longer the case, but it's also instructive if you look at it relative terms to population and those trends are really shifting. So, our guest talked quite a bit to that point.


Mwangi Thuita:  Another thing that she mentioned that I thought was interesting was that 40% of displaced people today are actually IDPs, that's internally displaced persons. And that means that they're not subject to international conventions and protocols that were designed to protect refugees, who are people who've sought sanctuary in a different country. So, I think the issue of internally displaced people is something that listeners will benefit from hearing about. We also sort of solicited her advice for aspiring development professionals and future managers in nonprofit and government.


Sonnet Frisbie: All right. Well, thank you so much for being with us today. We're really excited to talk to you. So, as we mentioned, currently 70.8 million people are displaced by war conflict and persecution. Can you contextualize that number for us in terms of the last hundred years or so, maybe some of the bigger trends, and how does that look different today, from a hundred years ago?


Cindy Huang: Yep. The number has been on the rise. and so, you'll often hear, and it's the case that this is the largest number of displaced people. At the same time, it's important to then get down to the next level of detail where more than 40 million of those people are internally displaced in their own countries, and about 25 million plus have fled to another country. Another piece of information that's really important is the absolute number compared with the global population. And so, there have been times in history, I think we're kind of reaching parity with the level of displacement, for example, after World War II, as a percentage of population, I will say that it's important to think about those absolute numbers. At the same time, we also know that it's almost less about the numbers and more about our approach to including refugees, because sometimes people hear the number and they feel really overwhelmed and think about what we can do, but there have been times where we have accepted globally, a large number of refugees without the negative political backlash that we're seeing today.


Sonnet Frisbie: Hmm. And what are some common misperceptions about refugees and displaced people? And I mean that both on the part of policymakers, and let's say the public, the average Joe?


Cindy Huang: So, one of the misperceptions is that people flee and after, one or a couple of years, they're able to return home. But the average length of displacement is 10 years, and for those people who are displaced in protracted situations for five years or more, they're displaced for more like 20 years. And I think that makes a huge difference, I think both from the perspective of the public and policymakers, which means that a lot of the solutions that we've come up with, like providing food, water, and shelter for refugees, that makes sense if they're displaced for a short period of time, but think about 10, 20, 30 years, we need more sustainable solutions.


Sonnet Frisbie: And it's interesting because I think one of the misconceptions that I've heard is often that, well, they don't actually want to go home and they're actually economic migrants. And during the recent refugee crisis in the EU, for example, there was a lot of conflating of economic migration and refugees. So, I'd be interested to hear how you describe the distinction between the two and then how should the policies be differentiated for the two groups?


Cindy Huang: Yes. So, for refugees who are fleeing violence, war and persecution, we have international protocols to deal with them. And so, I think it is important to separate them from economic migrants who may also be fleeing circumstances that are very dire, but at the same time, aren't suffering from that same level of lack of safety, and that really is what the international protection regime is about. From a policy perspective. I think that means that we do have to be clear that that system for seeking asylum and providing refugee protection is really critical. At the same time, I understand that some of the confusion in the public mind, because there are cases of people who seek asylum who don't win their case. It turns out that they were trying to use a channel that they don't qualify for. I think people have a lot of empathy for refugees. And I think the issue is that we need systems that are transparent and function well.


Sonnet Frisbie: And I'm curious, what do you see as the United States role in the refugee process? I know a few years ago, I would hear it often touted that we accepted more refugees than any other country, but I know that that was only an absolute term since we already talked about absolute versus proportions. So, how do you see the U.S.’s role?


Cindy Huang: Historically, the U.S. has anchored the refugee resettlement process. And for those of you listeners who aren't as familiar with refugee resettlement, those are refugees who have fled to another country and they aren't able to find safety in their new host country, and therefore, UNHCR and that system identifies them for resettlement to a third country like the United States or Canada or the UK. Historically. we used to resettle as many refugees as the rest of the world combined. And so, it was a very big commitment. However, more recently, Canada has accepted more refugees than the United States. Canada is a much smaller country. So, the role of the U.S. has been not only in accepting refugees, but really in upholding the principles of international protection. And as we've seen U.S. leadership roll back, we are seeing global retrenchment of support for these principles. And it's not always only up to the U.S. but we were an anchor of that system.


Sonnet Frisbie: So, you mention the principles of international protection of refugees? And it strikes me that you also mentioned internally displaced people, IDPs, a moment ago. So, can you talk about where IDPs maybe fall through the cracks in that system, and perhaps where maybe they have advantages? I'd be interested in how those groups differ.


Cindy Huang: Of course, the situations between various refugees and IDPs differ among themselves. So, it's really important to have responses that are locally contextualized. It is very different in terms of legal status in particular. So, I work a lot on access to jobs for refugees, and once you've crossed a border, you are facing a lot of constraints where host countries don't allow refugees to work. If you are an IDP, you're still a citizen of that country. So, in theory, you still have access to services and access to jobs in practice. Often times, people who are displaced internally don't have that access. So, I would say, I think it's, well, there are significant differences. I think it's important to also look at the practical barriers that people are facing, whether they're IDPs or refugees, and try to overcome them. I'll just put in one final plug: there's a new high-level panel of the UN that's looking at IDPs, and we all can be rightly skeptical of high-level panels and what is implemented at the end of the process; however, I do see it as a very positive sign of the attention that's being paid to the unique situation of IDPs and what more the international community can do.


Mwangi Thuita:  And you just spoke about labor market access. So, I'd like to talk to you more about that and about some other policies that benefit refugees and how you, at Refugees International approach measuring the evidence for the success of policies. So, living in a Western country, as we do, with a constant stream of news about refugees over the last few years, you would think that most refugees and displaced people are actively seeking sanctuary in Europe or North America. But as we know, most of these people actually end up in low- and middle-income countries in the Middle East and Africa and Asia, and these countries face significant challenges in providing resources. Some of these challenges are material. Some of them are political. There's a fear in many of these countries that allowing refugees to work or have an education or even allowing them access to national safety nets act will act as a pull factor and lead to more refugees, who will stay for longer periods of time. What does the research actually say about these concerns?


Cindy Huang: So, as you noted, the vast majority of refugees live in other developing countries, and that figure right now is around 85%. So, it's really important to challenge some of the misperceptions about who is doing what in this world around refugee protection. I will say that the evidence generation around the sets of questions that you asked is relatively new. And I think it's great. Now we have new actors like the World Bank starting to dig into these questions. My understanding and assessment of the evidence is that, when people are first displaced, those policy conditions that you talked about, like, “Oh, can I have access to the social safety net system? Can I get an education?” When they're fleeing violence war and persecution, people are not really carefully weighing those factors, because – I most recently did a study in Bangladesh and, the Rohingya were fleeing massive war crimes and that, that wasn't really a factor.


So, I think it does depend on the various push and pull factors that are in place. I think we have evidence from a number of cases that shows that other policies beyond the kinds of benefits you can get are far more influential. So, I mentioned some push factors, like what people are fleeing from, also when countries close the border, and that just has a much larger impact. So, I think one other, as you said, rightly, many governments are concerned about the pull factor. I've now, in talking to government representatives around the world, I've heard more about the “stay factor,” meaning that there's concern that by providing these services, refugees won't want to return, even when the conditions in their home country have improved. There is evidence around that that shows it really is mixed. It depends on the policy conditions in the hosting country and the country of origin. And there are examples of people who, when they have access to livelihoods, when they are able to make a living, they might be more likely to return home because they have education and they have assets that they're able to return to their country to rebuild. And that really goes to one of the hearts of the question, which is the vast majority of refugees say, “If my country is safe, I would like to return home.”


Mwangi Thuita: And there are some of these low- and middle-income countries that are increasingly allowing some provisions for refugees to work. I think maybe Jordan, Turkey, Colombia, correct me if I'm wrong. What are some effective ways of convincing these governments, that it is actually beneficial both to them and to the refugee populations?


Cindy Huang: So, there has been movement, you rightly note, and also in Ethiopia where there’s been positive laws that are passed. And then we have some stalwarts like Uganda, which have always had really excellent policies on the inclusion front. So, one of the ways that the international community has been thinking about this question is what are the resources that we can offer to align interests, such that it makes sense for both refugees, host communities and national development to allow refugees to work and increase their self-reliance? And in cases like Jordan, we've seen that the international community has come together to offer Jordan assistance, in particular, this development-led assistance where we as the international community can make investments in their health system, for example, so that their health system can include refugees, as opposed to the traditional model of having a totally parallel system go on for years and years.


And I think it's really important to do that around economic growth more generally, because in all of these countries, you have vulnerable host populations saying, “Oh, it's wonderful for refugees to get assistance, but what about our situation?” And so, I think being able to design packages, which are not about conditionality, not “We'll give you a bridge or a road here if you'll give rights to refugees,” it's really about how can we use these new resources to align interests so that we can overall grow the pie. And people have been so creative there in the Jordan case, there were trade concessions with the European Union. There have been discussions of ways to catalyze private sector investment. I don't want to oversimplify, because the devil's in the details and implementation is really tough, but I really appreciate the creative and new thinking around bringing humanitarian and development objectives together.


Mwangi Thuita:  And some of these models for international partnership are relatively new. What can we say so far about how they've been implemented and the successes that they've had?


Cindy Huang: So, I've looked most closely at the compact in Jordan that was around jobs and economic growth. And the one in Ethiopia is quite new, I will say, as you said, this process really started in 2016 or so, and in development terms, that's quite a short period of time. But I do see some bright spots and I'll give two or three examples. So, one is that there's really been learning in the implementation process. So, in the case of Jordan, there was at first a significant focus on refugees being employed in industrial zones and in factories. But when the program was starting to be implemented, people found – well, refugees, that's a long way to travel. They were afraid to leave their families. You've just fled another country. There was fear, there were the costs around traveling to the workplace, there was no childcare. And I think people really did take a step back and say, “Okay, well, how can we improve this system, but not lose the spirit of wanting greater access to the labor market?”


So, there have been changes, like a new regulation that allows Syrians to have home-based businesses, which allows more women to have catering businesses or sewing businesses. So, I think there has been that learning spirit. At the same time, there's still a long ways to go. And I think one of the tricks in all of this will be, how can we implement these projects and compacts in a way where we're seeing positive benefit and therefore there's momentum to do more and more, versus, feeling like there's going to be a backlash because people haven't really seen the benefits that we've promised?


Sonnet Frisbie: There’s a big role for the private sector as well. How do you see – and you mentioned a little bit with like home-based businesses – how do you see the private sector, maybe, companies that want to hire refugees, how have you seen them also influencing the policy process?


Cindy Huang: Yes, I think they they've played a really important role and I want to call out the Tent Partnership for Refugees, which is a coalition of companies that want to do more, both in the U.S. and around the world. And it's been really important to have Tent and groups like Tent at the table and the companies that are in their coalition to make specific commitments around the hiring and the investment that they would make if policy changes were implemented. Because it's very nice in theory to say, “Please make these policy changes and you're going to see these benefits,” but, the countries which are under pressure, they want to know that there's something at the end of that policy change process, which can be quite difficult at times. And I know that in Colombia where there's a more progressive policy around labor market access, there've been conferences and really requests for companies to come in and increase the overall pie.


Mwangi Thuita: You spoke of the differences between cultures of welcome in countries like Uganda, which have historically been very open to having refugees work and be integrated in the social safety system and provided for social services. Obviously, that's a bit simplifying it a little bit. But what do you think are some major determining factors in how open and welcoming a country is to refugee populations?


Cindy Huang: One major one is the previous experience with displacement, and that's the case in Uganda, and now you see in Colombia. So, for, during the civil war in Colombia, Venezuela hosted a lot of Colombians. And so now, as we see the flow moving in the opposite direction, there is a feeling that, we were welcomed and now it's our turn to welcome our neighbors. So, I think historical experience is an important determining factor. There have been studies about the cultural closeness of the displaced and host populations being a factor. And now, there’s new research as well, that's looking into both the economic and the perception of the economic effects of hosting refugees. So, I'm working with a fantastic researcher, Thomas Ginn, at the Center for Global Development, who's looking at how welcome changes when host communities know or don't know that part of the benefits they're receiving are because they're hosting refugees. And actually, that experiment is in Uganda, where now it's quite common, and I think it's a very good thing that is part of a humanitarian response, a certain percentage of the funds should be invested in the host community. So, then there's a question of, does that change people's perceptions and the sense of welcome?


Sonnet Frisbie: So, you had mentioned the Rohingya earlier, and I know that you actually gave testimony to Congress in July of 2019 on that topic. And you talked about among other things, encouraging U.S. to increase international pressure on Myanmar to ensure participation of the Rohingya in the response, and to increase support for Bangladesh as they grapple with the refugee crisis. I would love to hear how you calibrate your message when you're called on to give testimony before Congress, maybe how that experience was for you and how the aftermath has been as far as seeing impact.


Cindy Huang: So, we talked earlier about the fact that U.S. leadership has waned a bit on refugee issues. I will say even with that change, the U.S. is still such an important voice in the international community, and in the case of Bangladesh and hosting Rohingya, the U.S. is by far the largest donor. And you can say that about a number of crises. So, I took that duty and opportunity very seriously because speaking to members of Congress who hold the purse strings, who are leaders on policy in many respects, it was a really great and humbling experience to be able to share my ideas. What impressed me most about it was the level of engagement. As your listeners and you may have noticed, there's just a lot going on in our country now and a lot going on in Congress. So, I thought, “Okay, well, some people will show up and ask some general questions,” and that was not the case at all.


There was a large, maybe even a dozen members who came in at different points in the hearing, extremely well-informed questions, even things like, “What's the curriculum that Rohingya children are being offered?” People who just know a lot about what's going on. And that honestly gave me a lot of hope in our democracy and the fact that it's not perfect, but people were taking time to understand the issues and understand where U.S. pressure and engagement could make a difference. In terms of follow-up, there has been progress on the Burma Act. It hasn't been passed, but that includes a number of measures that I referenced such as greater accountability and individual and business sanctions on Myanmar. I think you can't ever attribute anything, one individual thing to what you've said in front of Congress, but I do think the chorus of voices really matters. And that's something I would say to those who are listening, who have very bright futures in policy and practice, is that it's really about the ecosystem of change. And I think the more you can understand where the pressure points are, and how you can build alliances, including with people who you don't agree with a hundred percent, or even 50%, it's really important. And I, again, was heartened by the bipartisan nature of support and interest in the issues.


Mwangi Thuita:  I'd love to hear about what kind of arguments, in your long experience in both the nonprofit sector and the government, what kind of arguments do you find to be most effective in swaying policymakers? There’s moral arguments that appeal to our values as a nation, or perhaps, human rights and refugee rights based arguments, or perhaps and how to take into account strategic considerations, given it's the U.S. government that you're trying to appeal to?


Cindy Huang: Yeah. It's important. It's a lot of work and it's so important to tailor the message and lift up. We always want to be extremely evidence-based and there are always opportunities, depending on who you're engaging to lift up different aspects of the arguments. One thing that I found in my work, which previously focused more heavily on the economic aspects, is that even with the ministries of finance and the more economic actors, that it is still a combination of factors. And so, I'll give an example, which is that when we were talking to stakeholders in Jordan and we were focused on the potential economic benefits of giving greater rights, we learned that making the argument that increased labor market access in many cases would reduce child marriage and child labor was compelling, because these are issues in places like Jordan and in Bangladesh that the government has been working on and paying attention, even aside of the refugee crisis.


These are issues that they've been working on. So, I think to the extent you can really look at shared interests and make an argument that has many pillars, especially when it comes to policy makers. It's important. And then the last thing I'll say is more of my recent research has been on narrative shift and communications. And it's really important for everyone to remember that policy makers are people too, meaning that stories and human beings, contact with human beings, also makes a big difference. So, for example, I think even though you won't have an RCT to show the evidence around congressional delegations, where you bring members of Congress to different countries, or to refugee resettlement offices in the U.S., I can just tell you from experience, it really makes a difference. And so, how do you combine that in a way that, that uses your time and resources wisely, and those of other members of the coalition? To me, that's the art and science of change, policy change, social change that I love to engage in.


Sonnet Frisbie: Kind of an off-the-wall question, but you've had a really fascinating career, and a lot of it in areas where I would say you have to be somewhat of an idealist to keep your optimism. Is there a book or a person who has had a big influence on you and your ideals and morals surrounding your work?


Cindy Huang: Yeah, there are a number of influential figures in my academic life and just reading through the years, hopefully this doesn't sound overly macabre, but I will never forget reading Victor Frankel's Man’s Search for Meaning, which is about how he survived. He's a psychologist and an intellectual, and also just lived through so much during the Holocaust. And that's that it has been a touchstone for me in terms of, without ever being too harsh on ourselves, to say, what other people who have been through the worst of the worst are able to find in terms of meaning in life, and finding hope? I've just had so much luck and privilege in my life and to be able to use that to try to better the conditions of humanity, I see, as not just a responsibility, but a privilege.


Sonnet Frisbie: So, shifting gears a little bit, we're here at the Harris School of Public Policy, and we have hundreds of classmates who are going to go out into the world after graduation, some of whom have already worked in policy, but definitely will work in organizations, many of them in development, let's say, or NGOs. What are two or three things your experience has taught you about working within organizations like NGOs and government – I know you've also had experience there – and what type of advice would you give to those students?


Cindy Huang: So, the first will be extremely boring, which is that management and bureaucracy can be your friend. I did a PhD in anthropology, so I got in intensive interaction with a variety of academics, and I think it's always wonderful to have time to be free to think and write and reflect. I will say, having worked in larger organizations, that you can do so much, with the leverage and power of a team and a bureaucracy behind you, that is change and opportunity at scale. And there is no brilliant idea out there that is adopted just because it's great and brilliant. There is so much blood, sweat, and tears that goes into getting it adopted and scaled and adopted. So, make that investment, it is hard.


Every year, when it comes time to do annual performance reviews, I think, “Oh my gosh, I don't have time to do this.” But ultimately those are the resources that I have to affect change in the world. So that is one thing that I've learned. I would say it's probably not my natural tendency. So, it's one that I've had to work on. The second is that the world out there is big, but actually this community, and the community that you will work in probably is relatively small. The golden rule, when I first went to the State Department, I saw how some people came in, and maybe they're political appointees for the first time, and they were just a little bit too big for their britches, you know? And I said, “Oh, well, that's going to be the same person.” That desk officer you weren't nice to is going to be your boss and you’re going to interact with them at some important meeting.


And I know again, it sounds pretty basic, but really going in with that spirit that we're in a community that is trying to work together is really important. And then the third piece, which is linked to the first two, is as you move up in the world and I know Harris School students, and anyone else listening will move up in the world. Like how can you also create space to go back to first principles? So, I came into all of this as an anthropologist, really believing that refugees, other affected populations have to be at the heart of what we do. That becomes harder as you move up, because there are a lot more meetings so that you can get to scale and have bigger influence, but how do you maintain that connection? And also, it's just good for the soul, because you're being reminded of why you wanted to embark on this journey in the first place.


Mwangi Thuita:  That was fantastic. Thank you so much. And in line with that management and bureaucracy and administration are often things that are underlooked. Policy research and analysis is a little fancier and more attractive. But when you look at the vast landscape of humanitarian aid organizations doing good work to alleviate poverty and suffering around the world, what are some things that you think the industry as a whole could be doing better? Is it greater transparency? Is it more evidence-based approaches? Are there any kind of structural or systemic issues that you think they could improve on?


Cindy Huang: I think in the basket of just do no harm and do basic right by people. I think there's a lot more work that could be done. We've seen a number of cases where, NGOs haven't done the basics to make sure that there is a safe workplace or that beneficiaries aren't exploited or abused in some way. So, I think that is important, and that is linked to a broader issue of transparency and accountability. And I do think it's easy again, to put off some of those issues as less about the core policy, new idea or programs, but we've seen some organizations where really it becomes an existential threat to doing your work if you lose your credibility. So, I think that's one area that's really important.


Another area is, after development, we've tried to grapple with this, but I think we still have a long way to go, which is just really, saying the serenity prayer and saying, “”We outside NGO government, we cannot drive or really do development in a country.” It really is about the people living in that country. And it's really hard to hold on to that humility because there are big problems and there are ways that we can help. So, I think having that, there’s a lot of great both rhetoric and starting to be some practice around “What does it mean to include these populations in the design and execution of projects? What does it mean to really work more closely with governments, while still holding them accountable when they are perpetrators of injustice?”


So, I think that's another big area of work. And finally, just because it's one that's really close to my heart, is bridging what I referenced before, in terms of there being a divide between different sectors, humanitarian and development, or you can look across any number of sectors, of really siloed approaches. And just coming back to that reality that people are whole people who live in communities. So, while we know we need different kinds of technical expertise, what can we do to have a more holistic picture of where indicators can be improved, and also including people in the process of setting those indicators?


Sonnet Frisbie: So, it's a difficult question, but to the point of systemic issues and aid, you recently penned an opinion piece along with a couple of other authors in the Oregonian about the sexual scandal involving the founder of Mercy Corps, Ellsworth Culver, and in it, you and your co-authors posit that the rash of abuse scandals in the development community is actually symptomatic of a broader issue and not simply one-offs. So, I feel like I'd be remiss after what you just said if I didn't ask you about that and what you think the future is in the industry and where you think the fixes are?


Cindy Huang: Yeah. I do stand by what we wrote in terms of it. I think it is often too easy to say, “Oh, well, that was just one bad apple, you know? Oh, okay, well, we didn't catch it that time, but now we have this gold standard policy in place.” I think it is about the development community, but it goes much broader. And we see this in the Me Too movement. And we are working against thousands plus years of patriarchy. So, it's going to be a long journey and we should accept that and take from that, that really nothing can be too much in terms of paying attention to these issues and the investments that we need to make. So, I think it, as with all systemic change issues, we need both the policy change and then we need culture change.


And I think we're at a place now where a lot of organizations, partly in response to the scandals at Mercy Corps and Oxfam and Save the Children, they do have the gold standard policies. So, I do feel we're now at a point where it's really about how we set a tone and a set of values to start changing the culture and also make sure that leadership is resourcing those. We need independent audit functions, independent reporting. We need that to become part of the system. And what does that speak to in the broader picture? I think, in addition to just the general power dynamics across the world, I also think we have to be very attentive to the specific power dynamics when it comes to development and humanitarian programs, which is that we are talking about extremely vulnerable people, in the case of refugees, who have fled their country out of absolute necessity who don't have their belongings, whose family members have been targeted and killed. So, I mean, what do we take into that? We have to understand that good intentions are not enough. Those power dynamics are there, and we do need safeguarding. We need systems in place to mitigate the harm, intentional or unintentional, that can be done in those situations.


Mwangi Thuita:  I want to close with two quickfire questions. So, first, how does your background – you said you had a PhD in cultural anthropology – how does your background shape your approach to policy research and implementing interventions?


Cindy Huang: I’d be remiss if I didn't mention that I also did do a Master's in Public Policy.


Mwangi Thuita: Yes, at Princeton, at the Woodrow Wilson School! [laughter]


Cindy Huang: Also an excellent school, alongside Harris. [laughter]


Sonnet Frisbie: That was the right answer. [laughter]


Cindy Huang: So how that affects my approach, and you may have heard it in some of my responses, is that we have to put people at the center, and anthropology still has among the most trenchant critiques of why development programs don't work, because there was a cultural insight or a power dynamic that really put things off kilter. And I will say, that's great, and we're asking tough questions, and now the charge to the next generation is how do we do that in a way that also allows us to make the maximum contribution we can to supporting people in their journeys of development?


Mwangi Thuita: Okay. And the final question is about refugee camps. Having visited refugee camps yourself, and seeing the conditions that people live in there, do you think that they're a necessary evil or something we can realistically work to make obsolete in the near future?


Cindy Huang: I think in the near future, it will still be a mix. And I think that does get the point of what are the tailored solutions that are needed. So, there is evidence that shows that, for some groups of people, camps are really helpful because housing costs are too high elsewhere, and they're not able to work. And so, I think what I would love to see is not the camps where we have generations of people growing up without opportunities, but camps as part of a safety net system, where it does make sense for certain vulnerable populations, but that are really a launching pad for new and better opportunities now and in the future.


Mwangi Thuita:  Thank you so much, Dr. Cindy Huang. Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of Root of Conflict, featuring Dr. Cindy Huang. Special thanks to Yi Ning Wong for engineering this episode, and Aishwarya Raje for editing. Your interviewers were Sonnet Frisbee, and Mwangi Thuita. We’d like to thank UC3P and the Pearson Institute for their continued support of this series. For more information on the Pearson Institute's research and events, visit and follow them on Twitter.

Root of Conflict


Police Violence in America

For the last several years, police violence in America has come to the forefront of public consciousness. It is an issue that can polarize the country, but for years, there lacked a data-driven analysis of police violence on a national level, and concrete policy recommendations on the issue were hard to come by. On this episode of Root of Conflict, Pearson Fellows Sonnet Frisbie and Mwangi Thuita speak with Sam Sinyangwe, activist, data scientist, and co-founder of Mapping Police Violence, the most comprehensive database of people killed by police. Sam discusses the evidence-based approaches to measuring police violence in America, and the importance of conveying the data, to the public and to policymakers, in a way that can affect real policy change.

University of Chicago Introducer: This is Susan Kraken and you're listening to University of Chicago Public Policy Podcast.


Aishwarya Raje and Mwangi Thuita: You're listening to Root of Conflict, a podcast about violent conflict around the world and the people, societies and policy issues it affects. You'll hear from experts and practitioners can conduct research, implement programs and use data analysis to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world. Root of Conflict is produced by UC3P, in collaboration with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict, a research institute housed within the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.


Aishwarya Raje: For the last several years, police violence in America has come to the forefront of public consciousness. It's an issue that can polarize the country, but for years, there lacked a data-driven analysis of police violence on a national level, and concrete policy recommendations on the issue were hard to come by. On this episode of route of conflict, Pearson Fellows, Sonnet Frisbie, and Mwangi Thuita speak with Sam Sinyangwe, activist, data scientist, and Co-Founder of Mapping Police Violence, which is the most comprehensive database of people killed by police. Sam discusses the evidence-based approaches to measuring police violence in America, and the importance of conveying the data to the public and to policy makers in a way that can affect real policy change.


Mwangi Thuita: Sam, thank you so much for being with us today.


Sam Sinyangwe: It's great to be here.


Mwangi Thuita: So, when you spoke to us at Harris last fall, you said that your trajectory changed on August 9th, 2014, which was the day Mike Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved with this issue and why you founded Mapping Police Violence?


Sam Sinyangwe: Sure. So, rewind back to 2014 in the context of the Ferguson uprising. At that time, I was working as a researcher in a research Institute in Oakland, focused on issues of educational inequity. So, really helping to support 61 federally funded communities to build out data systems that could hold all of the different institutions, from schools, to healthcare providers, to afterschool programs, accountable to a common set of metrics and outcomes and results for kids and families. And as you said, my life changed on August 9th when Mike Brown was killed, because what became clear in the days and weeks and months following the outpouring of protestors and communities outraged in the wake of police violence, what became clear was that there was very little data on the national level to help us better understand where police violence is most acute, in terms of which communities are most impacted, which cities have the highest rates of police violence, which cities have the lowest rates of police violence.


And that's sort of the baseline information. That's critical to understanding what's working, what's not working, how you can effectively address this crisis in an evidence-based way. And so that's why I co-founded Mapping Police Violence to be a database. Now it is the most comprehensive database of people killed by police. and the goal of the database is to track every case in which somebody is killed by a police officer in the country. So far, we track between 1100 and 1300 cases a year. We have data now for between seven and eight years of data. And that’s why I've been doing the work, because 1) we need the data to better understand what types of solutions can be effective in addressing the issue of police violence and 2) we need the data to hold institutions accountable to actually implementing those solutions and making sure those solutions get results.


Mwangi Thuita: And can you tell us a bit more about how you organize such a large grassroots effort to collect this amount of data? What kind of logistical hurdles did you have to overcome? How do you mobilize this whole effort?


Sam Sinyangwe: Yeah, so, I mean, first of all, Mapping Police Violence stands on the shoulders of a number of crowdsourced efforts that have emerged over the past several years to try to answer this question of how many people are killed by police in America. And one of the first of those initiatives was Fatal Encounters. At that point in 2014, there were these two databases that existed. One was Fatal Encounters, and the other was Other than those two, the only other sources of data on this issue were the federal government's data, and the federal government only collected data on about a third of the total number of people killed by police, because they were entirely dependent on agencies reporting the data in a consistent and reliable way every single year, across all 18,000 police agencies in America. That methodology was just not an effective methodology.


So Fatal Encounters and killedbypolice sort of filled that gap by just posting the spreadsheet online and updating it every single day. They had a system of Google Alerts where if there was an article that had keywords, like “officer involved shooting” or “police shooting” or “killed by police” it would identify those articles. They would then log basic information about what happened in each of those cases. So, the date, the age of the person, name of the person that was killed by police, a link to the article, and then what I did was merge those two databases together, because neither of them had all the records of the other, and then fill in the gaps that neither database actually addressed. So, at that time, still about half of the total number of records in either database were not quoted by race.


So, in working with looking at information in obituaries and criminal records, databases information, online, social media, we're able to fill in the gap around race. So, 90% of the records in our database are now coded by race, similarly coding for the circumstances of what happened, so was a person armed or unarmed. and that really was working to find everything that was available online, as well as working through public records requests, getting data directly from agencies and getting data in collaboration with the volunteers and organizations across the country that were tracking what was happening in their communities, and putting all that in one place and then visualizing the data, analyzing it and better using it to address the crisis at hand.


Sonnet Frisbie: I'm really glad you mentioned data visualizations. I mean, many of us are either current policy makers or will be in the future. And so, we're often trying to figure out how to make visualizations that convey a really difficult point. I've seen some of your visualizations, you have some really, really striking ones. How have you figured out what worked, has that been an iterative process? How do you figure out what actually impacts a policy maker?


Sam Sinyangwe: Yeah, so, I mean, first of all, just being clear about who your audience is and who you are trying to impact or inform with your data? And for me, it has been not producing content that is strictly accessible only to policymakers or data scientists and researchers, but rather producing content that everybody can understand, that is accessible to a mass movement. Right? I think what's been so different about the protest in 2014 and 2015 and 2016 and the resulting mass movements, not only within Black Lives Matter, but a number of movements that have emerged since then, have been how many people who, weren’t involved in this work before suddenly got involved in the work after witnessing an injustice. In order to leverage that enthusiasm, that participation from millions of people across the country, and to figure out how to translate that energy and then organizing into policy, it requires producing information that is important to convince policy makers, but producing it in a format that everybody can understand and use in their own advocacy efforts, in their own local campaigns, in their own conversations with policymakers and other folks in the community.


And so that has been the goal with visualization is to make it as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible, who have now gotten involved in this work. And so, in terms of principles, I think first and foremost recognizing that the way that people access information today is different than it has been in the past. People have a lot of competing influences for their time. They don't have a lot of time. They are most likely getting information from social media, from Facebook, from Twitter. They’re getting information on their phones. So that means you really only have two or three seconds to hook them, to teach them something that is important and can help them in their own understanding of the issue and then advocacy to address it. So that's really been the goal of the visualizations is to be able to reach that person who's scrolling up their timeline, has two or three seconds to interact with your content, and to immediately teach them something about this issue in those two or three seconds.


So, if you look at the website at, there's one interactive map of the country with about 1200 different pins on that map, each one representing a person killed by police. And it's actually an interactive map that flashes. It has a series of flashes that go across the map that correlate with the date at which the person was killed. And the purpose of the map is quite straightforward. It's to demonstrate how widespread this issue is, how it is not limited to any one city or state, how this really is a national crisis that demands a nationwide mobilization to address it.


Mwangi Thuita: Yeah, and I'm one of those people. I follow you on Twitter. I checked yesterday and I think you have 173,000 followers. So, in merging activism and data science, it's clearly important for you to make your research accessible and usable and actionable as well. I just wanted to ask you more about this intersection between activism and data science, with, the group you were talking about Black Lives matter with, with groups like those which have created a movement that's brought the issue of police violence to the forefront of our national consciousness. Do you think more needs to be done for these groups in their efforts to be coalesced into two institutions and a policy agenda?


Sam Sinyangwe: You know, I think that the challenge with this particular issue is that there is not one federal standard for policing. There's not one federal police agency that, if you just change policy in that one agency, or even at that one level of government, if Congress passes a bill, it's just not going to be sufficient to change policing outcomes in all 18,000 departments across the country, each with their own policies and practices and outcomes and leadership. And so, necessarily, in order to get to change at scale, it's going to require equipping people and organizations and initiatives in as many of those jurisdictions as possible with the tools and the resources and the analyses that it will take them to actually change policy locally. and that will affect the trend line at the nationwide level. We haven't yet seen, as you sort of alluded to, we haven't yet seen change in terms of substantially reducing the number of people killed by police nationwide.


The trendline has remained relatively constant every single year. It was between 1100 and 1300 people killed by police in 2013, the year before the protests. It was about that many people, about 1100 people killed by police in 2019. So, what we have seen are a couple of things that we didn't know five or six years ago that we know now, they're helpful in thinking about how to address this moving forward. So, first and foremost, we know more about what doesn't work. So, we know that some of the initial ideas and proposals that were pretty popular in 2014 have been implemented in many places have been studied and have not achieved the desired result in many of those jurisdictions. So, things like body cameras, there was an incredible randomized controlled trial looking at body cameras and in Washington, DC, the largest ever such study looking at body cameras, they found no impact on reducing police use of force.


So that wasn't a solution. Similarly, implicit bias training is something that's being implemented into police departments across the country. We have yet to see research showing that it actually changes police behavior. At the same time, because now we have the data and we are tracking these outcomes and we're tracking what policies are being passed, what impact those policies are not having, we've identified things that do work. Changing police use of force policies, making them more restrictive, requiring de-escalation, banning shooting at moving vehicles, restricting deadly force to only be authorized as a last resort after officers have exhausted all other alternatives available to them. Those policy changes actually substantially reduced police violence, and we've been tracking that. I mean, you look at the largest cities in the country. many of which implemented these policies. Among the 30 largest cities in the country, police shootings have dropped 40% since the protests began and that's huge, right?


40% is a huge number of people who are alive today that would not be alive if not for reforms that have been implemented, and those reforms occurred because of the protest, because of the pressure, because of the research, because of all of those things coming together and impacting policy at the local level, and in some places, even at the state level. If you look at places like California, they've changed their deadly force standard in part based on the research that we've produced, linking use of force policies to use of force outcomes in terms of killings by police. So, all of that matters, all of that is making an impact in the places that have begun to implement those changes. The problem is, again, this is just a massive scale issue. There are a whole bunch of smaller police departments across the country that have just simply not changed at all, if anything, their outcomes have gotten worse. So, if you look at suburban and rural communities, rates of police violence are actually going up, as they're going down in the cities, which produces that flat trend line nationwide. So there's a lot more work that you have to do.


Sonnet Frisbie: So, I'm glad you mentioned RCTs and body cams, which incidentally, I know are used here in Chicago, which is a bone of contention I believe between the police union and Mayor Lightfoot. But you mentioned there was an RCT, which is not really something that you can do for use of force policies. So, from a statistical standpoint, bit of a wonky question, I guess, but how do you find a valid counterfactual to endeavor to establish some kind of causality when you're looking at use of force policies, since there could be a lot of unobservable attributes of the cities which introduced these limits or don't?


Sam Sinyangwe: Absolutely, it's a huge question. and there's no easy answer to this, right? I think you guys in social science, there are many things that we just simply can't know for sure, because of the number of intervening variables. but what we do know is this: over the past 40 years there has been a thread of research, study after study that has looked at the impact of administrative restrictions on police use of force, in particular deadly force. So, these are the restrictions and use of force policies and the impact that that has on police shootings, early on in that research. So, this really started with a professor in New York named James Fife who studied the NYPD and their changes that they made to their use of force of policy, again, in response to high profile police shooting and massive protests that actually happened in the early 1970s.


And this was really was one of the first, like a landmark study that began to look into changes that NYPD implemented, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring officers to use alternatives rather than deadly force, but as soon as those changes were implemented in, I believe, 1974, we saw police shootings, which had gone up every single year before that, began to decline and actually declined ever since in New York. So, now, it's a far smaller number of people shot at by police every year, then were back then. Since then, there've been studies that have looked at a number of other jurisdictions. So, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, LA, a range of different jurisdictions, and I've shown that after implementing stronger use of force policies, there have been declines in police shootings following that implementation. Again, this isn't a randomized controlled trial, there could be a range of different intervening variables.


What we then showed in 2015 and 2016, we looked at the hundred largest cities in the country. So, this was really just expanding on the existing research literature by applying it to a larger number of police departments, and looked at the level of restrictiveness of the use of force policy, taking into account the restrictions that were recommended by the Police Executive Research Forum of Department of Justice, a range of other standard restrictions that there has begun to have a consensus emerging around, and found that the police departments that had more restrictions in their policies were significantly less likely to kill people in those jurisdictions that did not have those restrictions in place. What we actually have been able to show now, because we've added a lot, and a number of additional years of data to work with, is that those jurisdictions that implemented changes to their use of force policy to make them more restrictive, since 2013, have had the largest reductions in police shootings, both fatal and nonfatal, and many of those restrictions occurred as part of either participating in the Department of Justice Collaborative Reform Program, having a Department of Justice intervention, through a DOJ pattern practice investigation and consent decree, or were departments that just on their own initiative, often in response to community pressure, changed substantially their use of force policies, and made them much more restrictive.


And we've seen that even when you control for things like arrests, assaults on officers, crime rates and a range of other aspects, that the actual use of force policy change remains significant as an explanatory variable in the decline in police shootings in those jurisdictions. So, again, this is something that is very, very hard to study. It's very, very hard to say for sure. But there's a lot more evidence that making those policies more restrictive can impact police violence than there is evidence in support of things like implicit bias training or body cameras, and it sort of makes intuitive sense as well. This is almost akin to the broader gun violence conversation where there's a whole bunch of research showing that states and cities that have more restrictive laws on gun ownership have lower rates of gun homicides. And this is not much different here, the cities that have more restrictive laws on police shootings and police gun violence have lower rates of police gun violence. It's just not, it's not like rocket science, the theory, and more and more with each additional study, we're seeing the impact that those policies can have.


Mwangi Thuita: I'm glad you brought that up. I'm very interested in talking about the relationship between debates around gun control and American gun violence in general. America has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. And the 2nd amendment is a uniquely American creation that sets us apart from, I think, most countries. I myself am from Kenya. And so, understanding gun culture and gun violence in America was quite a culture shock. How do you see the link between America's very unique relationship to guns, which results in high gun ownership rates and also very little gun control regulations? And how do you see the relationship between that and police violence? Are they part of the same issue, are police killings in your view inherently linked to America's relationship to guns?


Sam Sinyangwe: So, I think that that's a really complicated question. I think there's no doubt that the presence of so many firearms in the U.S. is contributing to higher rates of gun violence in general. And there are a lot of police who will cite the number and the rate of gun ownership in the United States as a reason why they are edge and more likely to pull a firearm and believe that their lives are in danger. There is some emerging research that has also looked into rates of gun ownership and rates of police violence at the state level and have also found that states that have more gun ownership have higher rates of police violence. So, I think there is a connection there. I think it's clear there is some sort of relationship and it becomes more difficult to advocate for things like having police be unarmed, as the vast majority of police in the UK, for example, are.


Just not having a gun, it becomes difficult to fight for those things in a context where there are a lot of people with guns, a lot of civilians with guns. At the same time, I think what is also clear is that there are a whole bunch of police shootings and other deadly force incidents that don't involve people with guns. And there is no excuse for that at all. Right? I think you know, when you look nationwide, about half of the people killed by police had a gun and were alleged to have been using it in some way or reaching for it. And this is predominantly based on the police narrative. So, that's probably overestimating things a little bit.


But you know, the other half of people did not have a gun and in any other country, it would be highly unlikely for the police to kill that person. When you look at a country like Japan, with about 140 million population, a huge country, they haven't had anyone, any civilians killed by police in the past decade in Japan. And it's not like they're not dealing with people who have knives or baseball bats, or who are unarmed and fighting people, like all those things, the police deal with routinely in contexts like Japan and contexts like the UK, in much of Europe. And nevertheless, the police don’t kill people. It's exceedingly rare for police to have killed people in those circumstances, whereas in the U.S., it's almost treated like if the person had a knife or if the person had let's say a bat or a stick, or even if they were unarmed, but they were alleged to have been punching somebody or something.


There's almost an assumption that that the police were justified in killing that person. Whereas anywhere else among wealthy nations, it's very rare to see the police actually do that. I was actually in a cab in London and the man who was driving the cab. He asked me what I did. We started talking about policing in the U.S. and he was saying there was this case that I saw recently in the news. And there was somebody who just had a knife and the police shot them, and it didn't make any sense to me. And I think in that moment, I sort of realized how the culture in the U.S. is so different that people really just assume that if the person had a knife, that the police were justified in killing them, and that's not always the way that that things have to be, it's not the way things are outside of the U.S., and it shouldn't be the way that things are in the U.S.


Mwangi Thuita: So, recently researchers at UChicago received $1.2 million from the National Collaborative on Gun Violence research to develop a police training program. And some of that is spearheaded by Harris professors like Oeindrila Dube, and they're working with the Chicago Police Department to increase police safety and community safety by training officers to process high-stakes situations more completely and more accurately. So, this is supposed to allow officers to make better decisions and reduce the extent of excessive use of force, including officer-involved shootings. What are your initial thoughts on this approach, in terms of training police officers on situational decision-making?


Sam Sinyangwe: So, it's tough. I don't know. I think the problem with training is it's very difficult to study the impact of police training. Methodologically, it's very tough because there are so many different training models. The qualities of the trainings vary, the things that are required to be a part of that training depend, like the modules depend by city, they depend by state. It’s very hard to isolate the impact that participating in a training for a particular officer would have versus another officer. We do know the trainings can change police attitudes, implicit bias trainings can impact police attitudes on race and other issues. But we just haven't seen conclusive evidence that trainings are changing police behavior in ways that reduce use of force doesn't mean it's not happening.


It's very hard to establish methodologically. I'm hopeful that this training can make a difference. I am also mindful that one of the things that we know we can do right away is actually scaling back the role of the police and responding to a range of types of situations, that can be handled by other providers, mental health providers, social workers, community gang intervention, outreach workers. So, if I were making an investment in addressing police violence and reducing police violence, that investment wouldn't go towards training the police, it would go towards scaling up models, first responder models that don't involve the police. They just have no likelihood of escalating to deadly force because the people intervening are not using deadly force. So, you look at the cahoots model in Eugene, Oregon, for example, and they have a huge number of their 911calls are now diverted to mental health providers who are the first responders. For instance, that may involve someone having a mental health crisis or homelessness or range of situations that police currently are involved with and often times involve themselves in ways that escalate the situation further.


Sonnet Frisbie: That’s really helpful, really interesting. I wanted to go back a little bit to, talking about driving change and getting buy-in, and you mentioned our federal system and how it makes it often difficult to get sort of large changes. Although on the other hand, you have the possibility potentially to get quicker change on a smaller scale. I'd love to hear where you feel like you've seen real differences being made and whether you've come up with like a theory of change over the last few years that you've been doing this.


Sam Sinyangwe: Yeah. So, I think first and foremost, what is important for people to know is that there have been cities, there have been large areas of the country that have made substantial progress in reducing police violence, particularly when it comes to deadly force. And that is true in places like Oakland where the city went from an average of between seven and eight police shootings a year, just six or seven years ago, and every single year prior to that was between seven and eight police shootings, and then dramatically reduced it now to between zero and one police shootings a year over the past three or four years. And that's substantial progress. Lives saved. As I said, in the largest cities, the largest 30 cities in the country, there's been a reduction of police shootings by 40%.


So, change can definitely happen and is happening in some places, some places more than others, even Chicago. Chicago police shootings have gone down, I believe about 70% since 2011, which is huge. And looking at all of those changes, looking at the places that have reduced police violence and examining some of the factors, sort of the ingredients, as you're referring to, that actually can produce change. There are a couple of things that come to mind, first and foremost, organizing matters, right? I think when you look at the places that have made changes, there are cities that have a pretty sustained and dedicated organizing base, where they can get people out into the streets. They can pack the city hall, and the city council chambers with people who are testifying and holding elected leadership accountable.


So that matters. so resourcing investing in those efforts and sustaining that organizing is a critical ingredient. I think the other piece is an analysis of the policies and practices of the department and being willing to actually change those policies and practices to do a couple of things. 1) Strengthening the use of force standards of the department 2) strengthening the accountability structure within the department. We're seeing some departments begin to do that at the individual officer level, through the use of early warning systems and using a predictive technology to actually identify which officers will be using force at higher rates, or the next officer to shoot somebody, and intervening before that happens. Also, at the department level establishing oversight structures that have the power to effectively hold police accountable and discipline officers and subpoena documents and witnesses in order to get to the bottom of misconduct cases.


I mentioned earlier the role of the Department of Justice in forcing departments to implement changes that they otherwise would not have. As I mentioned, many of the departments that have actually reduced rates of police shootings substantially over the past six or seven years have been departments that have had a Department of Justice intervention. So, Vice News did a great investigation of this. and they got access to all the police shootings data for a group of the largest law enforcement agencies, 40 or 50 largest in the country. And they found that those departments like Oakland, like Seattle, like Chicago, like Baltimore that had Department of Justice interventions that were required to change their policies required to strengthen their accountability systems, actually did see some results from that saw a reduction in police shootings following those interventions.


The problem is that again, all of this is happening at different levels. So, at the federal level now, with the current administration, they're not willing at all to engage in those investigations, those consent decrees. So, we sort of lost that tool. Now it's at the state level, we're relying on AGS to do that and except for in a few cases, they refuse to do so. So, it's a mix of things that are important. Organizing, policy change, and then interventions from the federal government that have all come together in some places to get results.


Mwangi Thuita: So, a lot of your work in the area of police violence, it seems like it's motivated by, our overarching goal of addressing structural racism in the United States. And we know that there is an element of structural racism in the way that police departments handle use of force disproportionately, in a way that negatively affects African Americans and other minority groups. So, while it's important to collect data and do rigorous analysis and present this to the public and policymakers, do you think that's enough to convince people to pursue change? It's still hard for some people to believe that racism is an issue in the United States, even today. So, is there an ideological factor that makes arguments based on data, and sufficient on their own and in your work, how do you see the two things, the activism addressing America's legacy of racism working with your data analysis?


Yeah, so, I mean, first of all, we don't have to convince everybody, right? I think this idea that everybody has to understand and acknowledge racism in order for us to make progress, it's just not true, right? We've never been in a place where across the board, people understood and rejected racism. It's always been hard fought. It's always been something where there has been an opposition that's been highly organized, with a lot of people on their side who've been resisting any effort to move forward any type of racial progress. At the same time, I think we have more than enough people who are willing to not only accept that racism is real, but also willing to do something about it. We have more than enough people to actually make progress. Right? And I think the challenge is less convincing new people – I mean, if you're not convinced by now, after all that's been happening, I don't think our resources are best spent trying to convince you, right?


I think you are by definition at this point, difficult to convince, even despite all of the both emotional and data-driven arguments that have happened over the past several years. At the same time, if you look at survey research, it's actually a majority of Americans that believe that racism not only still exists, but that we still need to implement further change in order to achieve racial equality in this country. And those numbers have been increasing over time since the movement began. When the movement began, it was actually not a majority of Americans who believe that. Now it's about 59%. And we're talking about a shift of about 40 million white Americans and their attitudes and beliefs about this issue that have happened since the movement began.


And that's important. Now the question is how do we organize the people that we already have, and the people that are willing to listen, so that we can actually build power together and achieve these changes? And that's an organizing challenge, right? It's a challenge that you see in many different mass movements, where you have millions and millions – if you think about climate change, for example, you have billions of people who support the need to address climate change, and yet how many people are actively being organized and engaged in advocacy for climate justice on a daily basis? Not even a fraction of that total number of people. It's the same for police officers, the same for other forms of gun violence, for any of these issues, immigration, same thing.


There are always more people out there than are current that would be involved in the work that are willing to get involved in the work, that might have unique skills and capacities, that could add value to the work. More people that are interested in getting involved than are currently involved, or the existing infrastructure of organizations has the capacity to onboard. I think solving that problem is actually the more important problem than figuring out how to convince more people to get involved. I think people are already convinced, they're reaching out, they're sharing content, they want to get involved, but they're just not enough pathways for people to get involved in meaningful and actionable ways to address issues that are often complex and are localized. So, you may be interested in addressing police violence, but in order to make progress on that in your community, that requires understanding what are the key levers of power and change in your city or in your county, and what are the key outcomes that need to be changed with policy?


So, it's different by community. In some places, you may actually have relatively lower rates of death before, so, police use of force in general, but much higher rates of arrests in particular drug arrests and drug arrest disparities by race, or ticketing and fines and fees, civil asset forfeiture. There are a range of different dimensions to this problem. And so, part of this is making information as accessible and actionable as possible to help people in each community understand how they can get involved in the most meaningful ways that are driven by an analysis of, what are the biggest problems? And data is a tool to help us do that analysis.


Sonnet Frisbie: All right, Sam, you've been very generous with your time. Thanks so much. Thank you.


Aishwarya Raje: Thank you for listening to this episode of Root of Conflict, featuring Sam Sinyangwe. To learn more about the topics discussed on today's episode, visit, or Thanks to UC3P and the Pearson Institute for their continued support of this series. For more information on the Pearson institutes, research and events, visit and follow them on Twitter.


Root of Conflict


Future of Defense: Big Data and Cyber Warfare

What is the role of big data in modern-day conflict? How prepared are defense leaders in interpreting data and effectively leveraging its use on the battlefield? How has cyber warfare evolved over the past decade, and what lessons can we draw from the Russian example in Crimea? Pearson Fellows Sonnet Frisbie (MPP ‘21) and Haz Yano (MPP ‘20) interview Colonel (ret.) Liam Collins, the Executive Director of the Madison Policy Forum and the Viola Foundation. COL (ret.) Collins is a retired Army Special Forces Officer who previously served as the former Director of the Combating Terrorism Center and the Modern War Institute at West Point.

Aishwarya Raje and Mwangi Thuita: You're listening to Root of Conflict, a podcast about violent conflict around the world and the people, societies and policy issues it affects. You'll hear from experts and practitioners can conduct research, implement programs and use data analysis to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world. Root of Conflict is produced by UC3P, in collaboration with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict, a research institute housed within the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.


Sonnet Frisbie: Hey, this is Sonnet Frisbie.


Haz Yano: And I'm Haz Yano.


Sonnet Frisbie: We're both currently master’s students at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy. And today we are joined by Colonel Liam Collins. Colonel Collins is the Executive Director of the Madison Policy Forum and the Viola foundation. He's a retired Army, Special Forces Colonel and former Director of the Combating Terrorism Center and Modern War Institute at West Point. We covered two main topics with him 1) the measurement revolution in national defense and 2) cyber warfare in the Russia-Ukraine context.


Haz Yano: Americans are the baby boomer generation who remembered the nightly enemy kill counts from the Vietnam war and that ominous feeling during the period that this was not how to measure success. Indeed, someone claimed that we didn't even know what success in Vietnam should even look like. Moving forward and looking at the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, Colonel Collins talks about how U.S. forces continue to have challenges in trying to identify measures of effectiveness and what should constitute so-called significant actions. He is on a mission to train military and civilian defense leaders to ask better questions. The surprising solution: train them to think like statisticians.


Sonnet Frisbie: We discussed cooperation between practitioners and academics and how that relationship works in an ideal world to further the study of conflict. Who should study, what, how does data get shared and analyzed? Then in the second half of the show, we take advantage of Colonel Colin's expertise on Russian aggression against Ukraine and others, to ask about the present and future of hybrid warfare. We'll talk about how this interlaces with information operations and the limitations of cyberwarfare.


Haz Yano: So, starting off, you recently penned an article for the online journal, War on the Rocks, with UChicago’s very own Ethan Bueno de Mesquita along with Kristen DeCaires and Jake Shapiro. So, the article offered some thoughtful insights on how the defense community is failing to take full advantage of the measurement revolution in thinking about modern conflict. Can you offer some specific examples, maybe some personal ones where you saw defense leaders making erroneous decisions based on the misuse or misinterpretation of data?


Colonel Liam Collins: Yeah, I mean, if you go back, this has been a problem for a long time. I mean, during the Vietnam War, we’re kind of aware the dominant metric that they use with the body count, which clearly didn't work. But I would argue, even in Iraq when we're looking at counterinsurgency, I think we got a little better, we had a lot more metrics to go with there. But the one that really kind of aggravated me was the one we call SIGACTS, right? Which was significant activity. And what it measured in terms of significant activity was basically hostile fire incidents. And so, just by calling it, giving it that name, significant activities kind of meant that everything else was devalued and gave it extra weight than it probably shouldn't have. And so, even then we were biasing one set of data over the others. It probably wasn't the best indicator in terms of what we were trying to accomplish there. And so, it’s repeatedly problematic in the defense industry or defense community for a variety of reasons.


Haz Yano: In particular, the article notes how senior defense leaders are like woefully under-trained in statistics and data analysis causing them to misinterpret the conflict data and in turn develop counterproductive strategies. But the way you're talking about it also seems to be just a complete misunderstanding of not just like the data statistics or just the conceptual pieces, but also just a misunderstanding of what should be considered significant in conflict.


Colonel Liam Collins: Right. So, part of it is that, and then part of it is they just really haven't had the training and education on that. So, most of that's kind of at the tactical operational level, but not really understanding those aspects once they get out of the conditional fight, right? It's real easy, think of like a World War II, right? It's really easy to measure success, right? You just look at where the line is on the map, where's the line of control. Are you moving closer to Berlin or are you not moving closer to Berlin? It's a lot easier to determine how your performance is, but in most of our modern conflicts, it's not that simple to figure out where you're at. It’s not for lack of trying, right? I mean, so organizations are constantly trying to assess their effectiveness.


And so, what they're doing is often relying on quantitative indicators, right? Some quantitative metrics that tell them if they're succeeding or not, but because of the complex world, right? Too much information, overwhelming complexity, they're trying to take cognitive shortcut. And so, some kind of indicator or a dominant indicator in terms of a strategy, is a strategy succeeding or failing, and then understanding different cognitive biases that you have, right? If you have four or five different metrics you can choose, right, the bias to choose the one that actually tells you your story, that you're succeeding. So it's not, there's all these cognitive and psychological aspects that also explain why we're not good at it. 


Haz Yano: So how prevalent would you say this problem is currently within the higher echelons of the defense community? Not just military, but also like the civilian defense leaders? I mean, are there any like enlightened leaders or thinkers or like a shift in the way people are thinking about the problem?


Colonel Liam Collins: I mean, I'm not going to name names, but they want to do better. There's the psychological aspects, the lack of education and understanding how to actually get better at it. I'll give you another example. If we look at Ukraine, right? And what, if we go back to earlier on in the conflict with Ukraine, should we provide more aid to the Ukrainians? Right. And so, Susan Rice is a national security advisor and coined this term lethal aid, right? We wouldn't provide lethal aid to the Ukrainian, just non-lethal aid. First, I don't understand lethal and non-lethal aid, after 25 years in the military, it's defensive aid. But second of all, it's understanding what is your theory of the world, and then looking for the evidence that will support.


You got to identify what evidence would support the theory or contradict the theory. So, if you're thinking of Ukraine, some argue it’s international relations theory of realism, right? So, it's a response. The more we push and NATO's expanded, it's a natural reaction for Russia to push back. So, if we give Ukrainians more aid, well, what are the Russians going to do? Right? If we give them javelin weapons, a really state-of-the-art anti-tank weapon, the Russian response should be to be more aggressive. That's what we'd expect. But if in turn, the theory that explains why the Russians are being aggressive is more of a cultural explanation, it's Russian imperialism, or maybe it's a domestic explanation? They want to have an enemy, well, then providing this aid is not going to warrant a more drastic response from the Russians.


Cause you don't want to trip into a World War III scenario with the Russians. But if you just kind of assume this is a response without actually testing it, then you’re conceding politically your policy options to them. In this case, we ultimately gave them javelin missiles. And the rhetoric at the beginning of in 2016 was like, if you do this, then the Russian rhetoric was, we're going to ramp up our response and we're going to get more aggressive. And then by the summer of 2017, it was clear we were going to give them the missiles, their rhetoric changed and was kind of like, “Hey, this won't change anything,” we're still going to continue support for Ukraine. So, it kind of supported the second theory. But if you haven’t identified that evidence, what will support which theory, and it's not always that quantitative evidence, right? It's qualitative as well. That helps support a theory.


Sonnet Frisbie: It sounds to me like you see some drawbacks as well as benefits to the measurement revolution and maybe you're advocating for a smarter measurement revolution. So, making sure that we measure what, what actually matters,


Colonel Liam Collins: Correct. it's understanding, right? What if it's a causal relationship and understanding what relationship matters? We run a course and everybody there hears the terms, correlation and causation. And they're not the same. And in the first 10 minutes, we pretty much everybody that they don't understand it as well as they think they did. And it depends on what you're doing, right? If you're a firefighter, then as long as correlation is all that matters, right? If you see smoke, there's probably fire. That doesn't mean the smoke causes a fire, but you can go there, right? If you want to inspect restaurants, then you might look at low Yelp ratings, right? Because those are ones typically have more health problems. They're correlated. It doesn't mean the one causes the other necessarily, if you have limited resources in the city of Chicago, then that's where you're going to apply those limited resources, inspect restaurants. And so, it's the same kind of in the defense community. It's trying to figure out what is the relevant metric or metrics that will help you determine that?


Sonnet Frisbie: How do you inculcate that kind of thinking, not just amongst military professionals, but in general? And then how do you make sure that that kind of thinking is pushed all the way to the top, where you have people making the strategic decisions about what to measure?


Colonel Liam Collins: I think on that, it comes from education and examples of where you've had successes, because I think fundamentally, most people want to do smart policy options. A lot of these aren't necessarily Republican or Democrat, they're kind of bipartisan, or even if they’re partisan, you want to make a good one that's informed on decision. And so, I think a good chunk of it is education and getting it inculcated from the start. I mean, another example is when I was at the Modern War Institute at West Point, we would do with some of our cadets, they would do projects. And so, one of them was for a civil affairs unit and they were trying to evaluate measures of effectiveness for their civil affairs units. And too often, what we measure is measures of performance, right?


How much money, how much are we pushing in here? And when I talked to the unit, I said, well, how do you actually measure if you're effective? And they said they have no idea, right? So, if it's a shorter-term project, it's harder to do, right? But if it's going to be a multi-year project, it's thinking from the onset, how do we actually measure if we're effective. How do we actually know if we're being effective? And then, how do we actually measure that? And so, you're thinking of it, you're actually doing it, somewhat of a controlled experiment. You have limited civil affairs assets, look for two identical towns that have some similar characteristics, you apply the treatment in one, you don't apply the treatment in the other, ideally more than just one, because there could be other things at play. But you do this and kind of over a year cycle or whatever, you might do public opinion polls or whatever, but have that as part of the project from the onset, thinking about actually true assessments to measure how you're going to be effective before you go and spend that assets. And a lot of that's in the developmental world as well for the State Department, how do we actually measure. If we're doing that, we can base it historically. We know some things are going to be more successful than others, but maybe this country you're applying it to is unique in some way that it's not going to be effective.


Sonnet Frisbie: The military is going to be conducting large-scale randomized controlled trials with its strategy and tactics.


Colonel Liam Collins: Well, what you want is you want this strategy, but you want to be able to test it like an experiment.


Sonnet Frisbie: Gotcha.


Haz Yano: So, you mentioned this in the article as well, but the need for increased education and training for people in the defense community to better understand what good metrics are to use of big data, et cetera. Specifically, you and your colleagues suggest incorporating classes on evidence-based, decision-making into different levels of professional military education. And I think the example that you provide with the Civil Affairs Unit and other things that we've seen recently, like in Vietnam, indicate that this kind of thinking is really valuable at all levels of leadership in the military, whether it be at the tactical platoon level or higher up with generals at the strategic level. But what exactly would this kind of training and education look like? I mean, are we talking collegiate level of classrooms, statistics classes? Are we looking at in-depth case studies? Are we looking at like incorporating these kinds of metrics, or is this kind of thinking into simulations, war games, joint exercises?


Colonel Liam Collins: No. I mean, to be a leader, understanding the data, you just have to be able to ask the questions of the analysts to make sure that they're not overlooking something. So, you don't have to go to college or take a graduate level statistics course. It's great if you have, but you don't need to have that. We’ve found pretty good success just with a two-and-a-half-day executive education course. So, really you're just talking a handful of hours incorporating at the right level within the professional military education, in the military or the State Department or others, in a lot of these organizations, the CIA as well, they all have different kinds of professional schooling opportunities outside of the formal civilian education and just giving them the tools to understand, “Okay, what is correlation? What is causation?”


I measuring my mission? What are the unintended consequences? An example we like to use is okay, you're probably a little too young to remember, but the original Miami Vice back in the eighties, right? It was trying to stop the drug routes in the Caribbean. And it was very effective at stopping the drug routes into the Caribbean. Did it stop drugs coming to the U.S.? Not at all, all they did was move to another area and basically created the landline or the land routes through Mexico. And so, did we really accomplish what we want? If you said, “Hey, we just want to stop transiting of drugs to the Caribbean,” it was very successful. We want to stop transit of drugs into the U.S., completely unsuccessful. You could argue it helped probably create the drug cartels that you have there now. And so thinking about those things in not just your narrow mission, what are you ultimately trying to accomplish, and are you being effective? So, kind of providing those kinds of examples for them to think about.


Haz Yano: Would you say there's like a big demand or an appetite for this kind of education or training within the defense community right now? Or is it still kind of completely, like, people don't even realize that this is what is needed?


Colonel Liam Collins: I’d say probably a mix. I think they don't realize it's needed, or if some do, I think they're still overly focused on the, “Let's just focus purely on kind of conventional military operations. Let's get really, really good at that,” but it's a balance of, okay, maybe we spend a few less hours doing that, but a few more hours doing other things that are also important outside of that one mission. So, it's balancing the hours they have, where they spend it, and I think the balance is too much on kind of conventional military operations. And by doing that, we're assuming risk in all the other kinds of operations that we have to do.  


Haz Yano: So, it sounds like this is part of a large discussion about whether to focus our military resources on conventional warfare or on irregular warfare. I mean, a lot of analysis on Iraq and Afghanistan seems to indicate that the importance of distinguishing between measures of performance and measures of effectiveness is especially crucial in counterinsurgency. I mean, would you say this is an element of that dichotomy?


Colonel Liam Collins: Yeah. I mean, that's an element and there's always a challenge when you're out there actually in it, it is trying to get balance. Getting the perfect information or getting certainty and you're trading off certainty for time. Right? And so, in that environment, like developmental projects, you can take more time, kind of get a good assessment, figure out how you're doing and redo it. In a fight, it's a little bit harder to figure that out. And that's kind of in all things, I mean, early on when we were looking for former regime element leaders, Alcaide in Iraq, it's the same challenge, right? Do you go after the target that you find, kind of this low-level guy, or do you try to build the network? For us, it was learning how to build it, like a organized crime ring in the U.S., dismantling that. Well, if you go after every little person and try to get them, you never really get anywhere eventually. Right? You got to figure out how to get to take down the entire network and it takes patience on that. 


Sonnet Frisbie: So I want to go back to what you were mentioning earlier about the military needing to investigate its own actions and use that data to then generate better decision-making. How would you characterize the balance between military practitioners and researchers cooperating and sharing information? Because, of course, the military has and will of course in the future generate a lot of data on its operations. Researchers would love access to that, but then they also, of course, want to publish their results, whereas the military might have some very understandable feelings and restrictions on the dissemination of that data.


Colonel Liam Collins: Yeah. It's kind of a complicated story, but I think most times, most people in the military want it to be public because it's useful to them. And our advantages really are our leadership or our mission command as we call it. So, if, to me, if you put it behind a closed-door system where you need your ID card to get on there, nobody's going to get that data. It's great if you have it, but none of your own people are reading it. And so, I think if it's out there, then anybody can get it, but we can leverage it better than anybody else. But in terms of the data, I had a colleague write an article about how you would think we have all this data, cause back in the day, it was write letters and do all this kind of thing in paper copies, but a lot of times that data just gets purged when units change over, just kind of erased and gone.


And so, the data isn't always there as you would think. I think usually, I mean, General Patraeus would bring academics out there and have them kind of study it, whatever he could learn from them that would be helpful. I think there's just more of a desire to do that, and it's just kind of pairing up the right people. I mean, we had great success in the Combating Terrorism Center getting documents, declassified, right? Cause that's typically the challenge, depending on who owns the classification, but anytime we can show Al-Qaeda for who they are, it kind of undermines who they are. They’re hypocritical in what they preach and practice in a lot of cases. So, anything to undermine the organizations a win.


Sonnet Frisbie: This podcast is in collaboration with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict. So, there are a number of faculty members here doing really interesting research in conflict zones and in sometimes indirectly defense related topics. In which areas specifically, do you see the most potential for academics and researchers to make a concrete contribution to the defense literature? Is it in doing the statistical analysis on the large data sets or perhaps in behavioral research, things like mediation and conflict?


Colonel Liam Collins: I think probably the area that the most help is probably conflict resolution. I mean, I always would jokingly tell people it’s real easy to take down a government, but really hard to kind of start one up and get it running. And so, I think that's probably it, and it's hard because the total number in the data is pretty small, but trying to get a better understanding of how you can transition into conflict resolution and maintain a lasting peace, and the things that go into that, counterinsurgency figures into that. That’s kind of where I see why there needs to be more help. Where does development fit into that? Where does economic aid fit into that? Are we just fueling the insurgency? Are we actually helping the counterinsurgency? And I think there's a lot of uncertainty on that. Drones, right? A lot of work's been done on this in recent years, but do they create more insurgents or terrorists than we're killing or is it being effective? And I think more work needs to be done on that.


Sonnet Frisbie: You bridge that gap in many ways, you are an academic and also a retired military professional. If you were building that pipeline, the academia and defense pipeline, how would you construct it? How would you improve identifying information gaps where academic research might be beneficial and then providing that access in a concrete way?


Colonel Liam Collins: Yeah. I mean, it's just figuring out how to have better collaboration. I mean, one is investing in intellectual capital. It’s more and more important as that complexity of the world increases. So, increasing the number of officers and possibly senior noncommissioned officers that go to graduate programs so that they have the right intellectual tools. They need to understand it. That's part of it. But also, while they're in schools, they're meeting academics, they have connections they can reach back to. A lot of stuff’s built on relationships versus organizational construct. And so, they can reach back to peers or at least understand, “Hey, I need some help. I can just call up our friend to come out here instead of not knowing where to start.” But a lot of it is just kind of going out and seeing it.


And that was the success we had with the Combating Terrorism Center. We would go overseas and then we would see a problem that they wouldn't necessarily see, or they wouldn't know how to address. Early on, it was the Haqqani network. Who are they? Are they somebody that we can engage in dialogue with? And so, what we did was look back, okay, who did the Haqqani say in their own documents, going back for a decade? And it gives you a pretty good picture of what the organization is. And so, you look in and you understand the organization better, and you can make an informed decision about how likely it is that they are going to be partners you can work with. But you don't see those problems until you're down there collaborating with one another. So, it takes kind of that collaboration throughout.


Haz Yano: So, we're going to take a really quick break here and we'll be right back.


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Haz Yano: So, welcome back. let's go and pivot to a different topic now. So, that's another one that you've written about quite a bit, just shift towards the topic of cyber warfare, particularly as it pertains to Russian aggression in Ukraine. You highlight some of the developments in this field and the number of articles you wrote for the Marvin Warren Institute back in 2018. Can you expand on this a little bit?


Colonel Liam Collins: So, I spent a couple of years from 2016 to 2018, going back and forth with General Abizaid as a Senior Defense Advisor to Ukraine for Defense Reform. So, got to kind of research and see kind of what they're doing over there. And they’ve basically been using since 2014, that area really is a test bed to test their equipment, test cyber capabilities, test their information operations against a real enemy and seeing some pretty significant effects coming out of that. And so, in terms of cyber, so the first time we saw a cyber used with a conditional military operation was in 2008 by the Russians when they went into Georgia. And then they kind of perfected that over the next few years. While they were focusing on improving what they learned from their incursion into Georgia, we were focused on Iraq and not really paying attention.


And so, really what you see now, or what we've seen in Ukraine is the ability to kind of combine cyber information operations and lethal operations all together to have an effect. And so, that's kind of unique. And so, the one thing, I guess you could thank the Russians for, because before Ukraine, everybody kind of understood cyber as a threat, kind of at the strategic level, are you going to get our banking systems? Are you going to get some kind of a infrastructure, command and control thing, but they've shown how cyber can actually have lethal effects at the tactical level. So, I guess we can thank them for that. So, we can understand that the cyber person isn't just off on an island now, they are more valuable.


Haz Yano: I feel like it wasn't that long ago when you had defense experts or people in the establishment saying that cyber threats are really limited in their military applicability due to the low or the unreliable rate of success. I remember reading back in like 2010, 2011 the likelihood of successfully hacking and manipulating an adversary's network for military applications was too low to be reliably employed. And that's clearly no longer the case as we see in Ukraine. So, all that said, you said we took our eye off the ball in 2008 because the U.S. has focused so much in the Middle East. Are western militaries now, such as the U.S. and NATO adequately prepared to deal with these evolving cyber threats? I think there's an understanding that the threat is real, as we saw by the elevation of U.S. cyber command to a full, independent unified combatant-command just a couple of years ago, but I mean, where are we in this?


Colonel Liam Collins: Yeah. I mean, cyber is a little more challenging to get at because you use a weapon once, the coding or whatever, you only get to use it once, and then it's out of the bag. People can copy it, or whatever else. Cyber is a little trickier, but I think if you look at collectively at what the Russians are doing across the board and understanding the democratization of technology in the states that lost our monopoly of violence. And so, I prefer to look at, okay, let's look at the capabilities the Russian have and whether you face them or someone else as this technology diffuses. That's what the concern is. So, you've got the cyber, you got the information operations, but also their electronic warfare capability. And I would say our defense establishment, by and large, has not and is not capable or not responding adequately to what we're seeing done. There's a lot of rhetoric to it. But what we always want to do is defer to a technological solution, a technical solution. And oftentimes it might just be changing how we operate. But if that's inconvenient, then we don't want to do it.


Haz Yano: So, would you say, instead of coming up with these technical responses to these threats, it's, again, a matter of changing the way we think about the problems, similar to what you mentioned about the measurement revolution?


Colonel Liam Collins: It's both. I mean, technology has a role in it. It's kind of like – think of the improvised, explosive devices or IEDs in Iraq that were killing a lot of American soldiers and Allied soldiers, Coalition soldiers. So, for that, a lot of people’s solution was we just need to get jammers. We need to have some kind of technology, build this giant IED task force. That costs millions or billions of dollars and 400 people to look for a solution to this problem. It's a weapon or a technique. Last time I looked, we're not looking for a solution to stop bullets or stop field artillery rounds. It’s not possible. The IED taskforce, kind of its original origination kind of split into two, one Joint IED Defeat Organization, JIEDO and then Asymmetric Warfare Group, and others were more like General Cody, who is a Vice Chief of Staff in the Army saying we got to get left of them.


We got to find the placers of this, right? It's all about war fighting. It’s a human fight. We have to find the humans that are putting them out there and that's what we have to counter. And so, it's the same thing for this, right? Those technology or tools, but you have to figure out how to, how to fight the humans or what the role the technology plays in there. But we have a bias to look for technology as a solution. If there was talk of a revolution in military affairs during the first Gulf War, this is the way future of combat will be, we'll just have sensors out there. We can identify everything, standoff weapons, engage them. That works well in the desert, but anywhere else, it's not really helpful. It didn't help me in the streets of Ramadi or Fallujah in 2003.


Haz Yano: If I rephrase what you've kind of talked about, instead of a dedicated unit or group of specialists in the realm of cyber, it's more about educating that infantry brigade commander on how cyber is going to affect the battlefield and how they will need to train their personnel to respond to those threats.


Colonel Liam Collins: That's right. Exactly. And it's not to say that you don't need to have a separate cyber command more at the strategic level, but you have to figure out how to integrate them at the tactical level. I mean, an example, like an information operation. So, in the U.S. Army, the functions are diffused across the staff and it's really an afterthought, right? They come up with a plan and then we kind of figure out where does IO maybe fit into this plan that we're doing. And for the Russians, it's completely reversed. IO, information operations, may be their main effort and they're figuring out how their lethal or kinetic operations kind of support that effort. And it's a major consideration when they're doing their planning. And for us, it really is just an afterthought.


Sonnet Frisbie: Yeah. Can you talk a little bit more? I know that Russia and Ukraine has used some information operations tactics, sometimes in conjunction with their other operations tactics like blackmailing military members or man in the middle where they insert a Russian operative in between conversations. Can you talk a little bit about the information operations piece of this and how we see them even expanding that perhaps beyond Ukraine to non-battlefield situations?


Colonel Liam Collins: So, when in Ukraine I mean, what we saw in some cases during the early part of the conflict where most of the fighting was done, but what someone coined pinpoint propaganda. So, basically soldiers would have their cell phones out there, which you, you really don't want to have in combat, but everybody seems to be dependent on these things. So, they would have them out there. They would get an artillery barrage, would come and hit them. And then right after the artillery barrage, everybody in the area would get a text on their phones that said, “Is your corrupt oligarch president worth dying for? Go home and protect your family.” So, it can have real effects if you have – in the U.S., I don't think that would have a major effect on our soldiers, but in Ukraine where you had a president that would have an approval rating at like 15% or something, it would rival our congressional approval rating, then it can have a real effect.


And so, tying those together and to broaden that, where do you see it going beyond that? I mean, to the Russia again, they kind of perfected after 2008 Russian-Georgian War, they were trying to argue that it was a responsibility to protect, and they were protecting the south from the aggressors, which were the Georgians. But both sides were somewhat at fault, but I think more people believe that the Georgians were preempting a Russian aggression that was going to happen no matter what. So, we were just going to do it on favorable terms. It was preemption by the Georgians. And then Russia is kind of like, “Hey, we lost this major IO information operation that was trying to blame the Georgians for the start of it.” And we were going in to protect. And so, that's the reinvesting in RT, and this just misinformation, right? Just enough misinformation out there so that it buys some time.


Sonnet Frisbie: Due to various moral and legal considerations, the U.S. often can't, or won't apply similar tactics in its hybrid warfare as perhaps Russia would, for example. Does this mean that we are handicapped in the information operations field? How do we think about defense versus offense and how do we engage?


Colonel Liam Collins: I think it provides them some advantages, I guess you could say. It doesn't handcuff us., It’s hard with the internet because you don't know who you're influencing, and you can influence American citizens. So, it's challenging in that regard. But it doesn't mean you have to concede defeat on that. I mean, we have the same problems with countering violent extremism. What's effective against that? How do we go in there and do that? I think it's just more being aware and smarter about it, so, okay, we know they're trying to influence elections. You can try to take down websites and work with that, but part of it is also having a slightly smarter electorate, so they aren't going to fall prey to that.


You’re not going to get them all but try to influence the ones that really are trying to make an informed decision. And so, it does give them some advantages, just like the same thing. And a lot of enemies we face aren't going to follow other rules of war. Every mosque I ever went to in Iraq, it was an ammo storage depot, right? Because they think we aren't going to go in there because it's a holy place, a protected site, but you can go in if you need to do. The same thing, they'll put their artillery systems right next to schools, hospitals, those kinds of things making us force our hand and worry about collateral damage.


Sonnet Frisbie: It seems that often we are reactive instead of proactive, especially when it comes to false narratives or fake news stories. So, denying a story rather than pushing out proactive narratives. How do you see particularly the defense community, but the larger administration or the larger U.S. government responding to this? And if you don't, how do you think they should be responding?


Colonel Liam Collins: Yeah. There’s examples out of Russia. I mean, we know Russian have been all over the […] to the Eastern part of Ukraine and it just kind of never makes the news, right? It's clear that they're in there and commanding and controlling a lot of those Russian-led separatists, but we don't show what they're doing. Right. You don't have to necessarily counter their fake news story. Let's just show what they're actually doing. Don’t even really, to some extent, give credit to their false stuff, just show what they're actually doing in that case. But I mean, it does play into the Russian hands. Early on, most Western leaders didn't want to get involved in Crimea. They knew who the little green men were. But it gives them arguably plausible deniability. I say deniability, because I don't almost nowadays, almost nothing's plausibly deniable. But it allows them not to act until it was a fait accompli and they had Crimea. And then it's, then it's too late. So, yeah, I think it’s a challenge.


Sonnet Frisbie: So, maybe one final question, if I could, you mentioned earlier the challenge to the monopoly on violence, that cyber sometimes plays the monopoly on violence by state actors. Do you see us moving towards this dystopian science fiction, novel version of warfare where you have guys in computer-filled rooms fighting remote wars, or do you think that that is a pure fiction, and it's always going to be a hybrid combination?


Colonel Liam Collins: I mean, the monopoly of violence has been eroding for years, right? The information, explosives, right? So, that's been going on for a long time. Will we ever get to the point where – I remember a Star Trek episode with Captain Kirk and he was at some planet and they were fighting a war where he's like, “What are you doing?” They're like, “Well, I'm reporting to the disintegrator because they just bombed us and killed 200 of us.” And he's looking around like, what bombs? He's like, “Well, it's all simulated now, but we just take away the violence other than we still get killed.” And he's like, “What is this?” So, he violated the prime directive and screwed him up, tried to stop him from fighting wars that way. But fundamentally, war is a human endeavor, right? And it always will be. Technology will play a role in that. You will have some automated systems in doing this but it's not going to be Terminator, machines, fighting wars. It's going to be humans fighting wars and as we constantly forget that, then we're going to be putting ourselves at a disadvantage.


Sonnet Frisbie: Okay well, Colonel Collins, this has been a really fascinating discussion. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today on route of conflict.


Colonel Liam Collins: Thank you.


Sonnet Frisbie: Thanks to all of you for listening to this episode of Root of Conflict. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also be sure to check out the many podcasts under our umbrella organization, the University of Chicago Public Policy Podcasts, that website is


Haz Yano: This podcast is partnered with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts. For more information, please visit their website, at This podcast was engineered by Mwangi Thuita, edited by Yi Ning Wong and produced by Mwangi Thuita. The views expressed are not intended to reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense or any other government entity.